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US staff plagued by China ‘illness’

US staff plagued by China ‘illness’
A van passes high-rise apartment buildings in The Canton Place where US government workers experienced unexplained health issues in China on Thursday.(Photo: AP)

Guangzhou,: A US medical team was screening more Americans who work in a southern Chinese city as the State Department confirmed evacuating a number of government workers who experienced unexplained health issues like those that have hurt US personnel in Cuba and China.

The evacuations of the workers in Guangzhou followed medical testing that revealed they might have been affected. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said “a number of individuals” were brought to the US but didn’t say how many were affected or evacuated. One case in Guangzhou had been disclosed last month.

She said tests are being offered to “any personnel who have noted concerning symptoms or wanted baseline screening.”

The incidents have raised fears the unexplained issues that started in Cuba in 2016 have expanded. The US government has deemed those incidents “specific atta-cks” on American workers but hasn’t publicly identified a cause or culprit. Most of the incidents were accompanied by bizarre, unexplained sounds that initially led US investigators to suspect a sonic attack.

Symptoms have included dizziness, headaches and an inability to concentrate. The American government worker who was removed from China earlier reported “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure.”

Security guards outside the Guangzhou consulate checked reporter’s IDs on Thursday and told them to leave the area and not attempt to talk to consulate staff.

Asked about the latest incidents, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the US had not formally raised the matter with Beijing.

“If the US makes formal contact with us, China will continue necessary investigations and maintain close communication and cooperation with the US,” Hua said at a news conference.

China had earlier said it had looked into the first case, but came up with no clues about the cause of the symptoms. The New York Times identified the latest American employee evacuated as Mark A. Lenzi, a security engineering officer who left on Wednesday night with his wife and two children.

Lenzi told the Times he resided in the same apartment tower as the officer evacuated in April and suffered in recent months from what he called “neurological symptoms.”

Lenzi’s apartment was in one of several high-rise buildings in The Canton Place featuring restaurants and galleries spaced around a central plaza. Another diplomat who reported symptoms was at a different upscale building near the consulate. People working in Canton Place, a few kilometres from the consulate said they were just hearing about the incidents, reflecting a lack of coverage in China’s entirely state-controlled media.

Aled Williams, a British teacher at a kindergarten said the reports sounded “sci-fi-ish.”

“Hard to get my head around how it works,” he said. “Better watch myself.”

— AP