09/09/2009, 00.00
CHINA – ASIA
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Swine flue: mass vaccination for government and party officials in China

Participants in the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the birth of the People’s Republic on 1 October will get top priority. Epidemiologist warns the pandemic is moving into medium-sized cities and towns. More people die in India and Thailand. WHO sources note that more than 2,800 people have died from the virus so far.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China is the first country in the world to be planning mass inoculations for the disease, starting with the 200,000 people who will participate in the 1 October celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic, China’s Health Minister Chen Zhu said yesterday. The programme is set to start in the coming weeks.

The national celebrations, which will consist of a military parade, a mass pageant and a gala, will bring together 200,000 high government and party officials from the capital and the provinces.

The authorities want to avoid the risk that the swine flu will infect top government echelons. This is why they and the military, who will be in charge of security, will get the vaccine first.

Four other groups of people will follow. The first group will include students aged five to 19, especially middle-school students. The second will comprise patients, especially those with chronic respiratory and coronary diseases, and pregnant women. The third will involve medical staff, and the fourth, police officers, soldiers, quarantine officials and railway, airline and border-control workers.

Altogether Beijing plans to vaccinate 65 million people, or 5 per cent of the total population, before the end of the year.

Dr Zeng Guang, a leading epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, warned in yesterday's People's Daily that swine flu was spreading to medium-sized cities and towns as the autumn school semester got under way.

The main danger will be however in the countryside where poverty is widespread and the possibility for medical treatment is limited.

As of Monday night, 5,592 people have been reported ill with the swine flu on the mainland. So far there have been no fatalities and 3,852 have fully recovered.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, 504 new swine flu cases were reported yesterday, bringing the total to 14,867.

World Health Organisation Director General Margaret Chan said the pandemic would "test the world on the issue of fairness” and reveal “in a measurable and tragic way the consequences of decades of failure to invest adequately in basic health systems and infrastructure” in poor countries.

At a meeting of South-East Asian health ministers in Kathmandu she warned against complacency in the WHO's 11 South-East Asian member countries, including North Korea, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, adding that the “pandemic will come to all your countries” and last “for quite some months.”

In India the swine flu killed three people in two days, including a 20-year-old pregnant woman and a 5-year-old boy, neither of whom reacted positively to treatment with tamiflu, bringing the total death toll in that country to 17.

In Thailand last week 12 people died as a result of the H1N1 virus, pushing the total to 142 since May.

As of 4 September WHO data show that some 250,000 people have been infected worldwide with the virus, with 2,837 deaths.

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