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Some St. Mary's students returning from China today

Twelve St. Mary's School students who tested positive for the H1N1 virus stayed behind in China as their friends and classmates started their long trip home.

Frank Phillips, St. Mary's headmaster, said via e-mail that the students will have to remain in quarantine in Hospital No. 6 in Zhenghou until they test negative for the virus.

The other 52 students and six chaperons were scheduled Thursday to fly out of Zhengzhou, China, to Beijing, and fly to Vancouver, B.C., today. Phillips said they will split into three groups in Vancouver, and one group will fly to Portland.

The other two groups will fly to San Francisco. All three groups will take chartered buses for the last leg of their trip.

Phillips said the students who were quarantined will travel home together with his son, Nick, who is fluent in Mandarin, and was one of the chaperones on the three-week trip.

The students who are released from the hospital will stay with the school's two Chinese teachers, who are home for the summer and live in Zhengzhou, as they are released, until all 12 are ready to depart.

“They are just 14- to 18-year-old kids, not world travelers,” he said in the e-mail. “They need a fluent Mandarin-speaking adult guide, such as my son. Also we need to keep a St. Mary's employee with them.”

After a person tests positive, it takes two to four days to test negative, Phillips said, and he estimated that it would be at least Aug. 3 before all the students test negative.

“We will have to find available flights at that point,” he said, “so I am hoping they are all back in Medford by Aug. 5.”

The students were part of a group of 1,500 students from Britain and the United States who were invited by the government to visit China for three weeks to study the language and culture.

The St. Mary's students were quarantined on two separate occasions when several students showed symptoms of the H1N1 virus and tested positive. They were able to spend about four days of their trip visiting historic sites.

The Chinese government has enforced vigorous quarantines in an effort to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu. The New York Times reported this week that about 1,800 Americans, and an unknown number of other foreign visitors, have been quarantined. Public health officials in other countries have maintained that quarantine measures are ineffective in an era when so many people travel great distances.

The Chinese note, however, that they have had no confirmed deaths from the H1N1 virus in a population of 1 billion. There have been about 700 confirmed deaths worldwide, including more than 300 in the United States.