Swine flu ruled out for CBS News' Cooke

Asia bureau chief released from quarantine in Beijing

BEIJING -- CBS News Asia bureau chief Marsha Cooke was released Friday after four days of quarantine in a Beijing hospital upon hearing that she does not have swine flu.

"I've got a clean bill of health. I'm free," said Cooke, ecstatic to be out of her isolated room at Ditan Hospital, where medical staff reacted strongly when she was rushed in from the Beijing International Airport by ambulance on Tuesday morning.

"Oh, you're coming in from New York. That's a dangerous place," said one nurse, according to Cooke. "I think they're looking hard at every single foreigner coming in."

On Monday night, a student returning to Beijing from New York University was found to be carrying the virus -- which is sometimes lethal in unhealthy people.

On Tuesday morning, as Cooke exited Air China flight CA982 from New York's John F. Kennedy airport, a sensor detected a slightly elevated body temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit), she said.

Cooke and another Chinese student -- this one returning home to Beijing from Ohio State University -- then were rushed to Ditan where she was held on a floor with about a dozen other patients.

On Wednesday, with 264 cases confirmed and new cases cropping up around the country, China's health ministry said it would restrict movement in residential areas, shut down entertainment centers and close schools under worst-case contingency plans to prevent the swine flu strain, H1N1, from spreading.

The ministry's new plan seeks to show that China can effectively control H1N1, after its cover-up of SARS in early 2003 contributed to the spread of that disease.

Roughly one-quarter of the people quarantined in China as of early June were U.S. citizens, the U.S. embassy in Beijing said.

"We won't don't have a good number for how many Americans are among the confirmed H1N1 cases in China as the situation is in flux," an embassy spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Some local authorities are being "exceedingly cautious" by imposing mandatory quarantine periods on all American travelers, the spokeswoman said.

On Friday morning before her release, Cooke sounded chipper, if annoyed, over the phone. "I feel fine. I'm healthy. I just want to go home," she said. "Today is the first day they've come to actually talk to me about what's going on."

Asked if she felt unfairly treated because she is black or singled out by press-wary Chinese authorities because she is a journalist, Cooke said, "I'm hesitant to think there's a connection. And anyhow, the story that's going to piss them off hasn't run yet," she said, referring to a forthcoming piece on the high incidence of cancer in heavily polluted Chinese villages.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and his wife were quarantined in Shanghai on June 7. They were released on Friday and continued a Pacific Rim tour on their way to Australia.

Cooke has been splitting her time for CBS between Beijing and Tokyo since April 2006. She has been with the network since 1993, getting her start in the Los Angeles bureau and eventually producing for the "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather."

Cooke was just back from a ceremony in New York where she was honored with a Gracie Award for a series of reports she did with Celia Hatton on the devastating Sichuan earthquake last year.
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