WORLD FLU FIGURES SOAR
Officials ordered schools closed and cancelled public events in the Japanese city of Kobe on Saturday, after eight students tested positive for swine flu and scores more reported feeling ill.
Scientists in Canada and Mexico meanwhile handed over vital data on the virus to the World Health Organisation.
The eight confirmed cases were students at a high school in the western city of Kobe. In nearby Osaka, another nine students were considered suspected cases, local officials said.
And as fears rose in Japan that the virus would spread across the country, World Health Organization spokesman Dick Thomson told AFP in Geneva: “It is something we are looking at but we need to have an investigation.”
Mexico meanwhile handed over a strain of the virus to the WHO yesterday, together with statistical and clinical data on its evolution there, said President Felipe Calderon.
He hoped it would help them come up with an effective vaccine as soon as possible, he added.
And scientists at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said that they had “mapped the full genetic sequence of the virus” found in swine there.
The same as the strain found in humans, it would “help scientists around the world better understand the virus and its effects on animals,” they said.
A WHO tally on Saturday showed that Mexico has still lost more people to the virus than any other country: 66 out of a worldwide total of 72.
In terms of the number of cases, the WHO total had soared to 8,451 on Saturday.
The United States, followed by Mexico, where the epidemic began some three weeks ago, have recorded the highest number of cases, with 4,714 and 2,895 cases respectively.
And when later Saturday, India and Turkey reported their first infections, that brought to 38 the number of countries affected.
Japanese PM calls for calm
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso called for calm after the country’s first case of a domestic infection – someone who had not picked up the virus from abroad – was confirmed in a 17-year-old boy.
“The government will carry out thorough inspections on the patients and on the people close to them,” said Aso. “We will take action to stop the infection from spreading.”
But Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s special swine flu task force and a former WHO senior official, said “we believe that the infection is beginning to spread in the region.”
“All of a sudden, people started wearing masks today,” said Reiko Hamuro, a 42-year-old transport company employee in Kobe. “It’s scary because the cases came without any warning signs.”
Officials in Kobe announced the temporary closure of at least 75 schools and kindergartens. They also cancelled festivals and other public events in some districts.
Japan confirmed its first cases of the influenza A(H1N1) virus contracted overseas on May 9, a school teacher and three students who flew to Tokyo from Canada via Detroit. All have since recovered.
India confirmed its first swine flu case after a 23-year-old man who had flown to Hyderabad from New York tested positive for the virus.
Quarantined with a fever on his return on Wednesday, he was already free of symptoms, said a health ministry statement. Health officials were trying to contact his fellow passengers.
WHO: No need for travel restrictions yet
For the moment, the WHO is not recommending travel restrictions to stop the spread of the infection, except to advise anyone who falls ill to delay travel.
Russia nevertheless advised its citizens against travelling to Spain, the worst-hit European country with 100 cases, in a statement issued on Saturday by its chief medical officer Genadi Onishenko.
Turkish Health Minister Recep Akdag said their first case of swine flu had been detected in blood tests carried out on an Iraqi-born US national.
Thermal cameras detected his high fever when he arrived at Istanbul airport.
China’s health ministry reported a third confirmed case on the mainland, in Beijing, late Saturday, state media reported – an 18-year-old woman, a student who had studied in the United States, according to the Beijing authorities.
The WHO’s annual assembly beginning Monday will be dominated by the alarm over the swine flu outbreak.
It has already prompted a motion to shorten the gathering from 10 days to five, so senior health officials do not spend too long away from their countries.