11/02/2009, 00.00
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Influenza A: “red” alert for Korea as cases double in a week

by Theresa Kim Hwa-yung
Last week, the number of cases reaches 8,857, up from 4.420 a week earlier. Tomorrow, alert might reach highest level in four-level tier. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao confirms rapid rise in case in his country. Saud Health Ministry launches action plan ahead for pilgrims coming to Makkah.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – Seoul could raise alert level to red, the highest on its four-level-tier, because of the rapid spread of the virus across the country. An official announcement will be made tomorrow afternoon. The government urges the public to remain calm, but health officials say the trend will continue for the next two to three weeks. In the meantime, China and Muslim countries are undertaking a vaccination campaign against the swine flu ahead of Hajj, the major pilgrimage to Makkah set for 25-30 November.

South Korea’s Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family said that an average of 8,857 people was confirmed catching the flu every day last week, twice as many as the 4,420 tallied the week before.

Measures to check the spread of the virus include travel restrictions, cancellations of large-scale events and a faster testing process.

Efforts will also be made to prevent people from abusing anti-viral medicine like Tamiflu that can lead to dangerous tolerance in the future.

At the same time, the government urged the public to remain calm since the mortality rate for the A-H1N1 stood at 0.03 per cent. Altogether, about 40 people have died out of an estimated 100,000 who have been infected.

Oh Myung-don, professor at the Seoul National University Hospital, also tried to lower concerns, saying, “There is no need to excessively worry over the H1N1.”

In China, the authorities said that over 3.78 million people were inoculated against the swine flu; they also said that they distributed over 26 million doses of vaccine to ward off a serious outbreak of the disease.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao mentioned the alert, confirming the rapid rise in cases in many parts of the country, especially in schools, adding that it will continue to spread on the short run.

In the mainland, the swine flu has infected over 46,000 people and killed six, including two in recent days, health authorities reported.

Muslim countries are also sounding the alarm ahead of Hajj, Islam’s annual pilgrimage to Makkah, scheduled for 25-30 November this year.

The Saudi Health Ministry reiterated on Sunday that the government would provide free treatment, without any delay, to people suffering from swine flu.

The Ministry’s deputy minister of health for executive affairs stressed that all pilgrims are guests of Allah and it is “our duty to look after them from the time they come.” Around 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world come for Hajj every year.

In Turkey, the Health Ministry announced that vaccination would begin today. About 350,000 health staff would be vaccinated after no adverse effects were observed during tests.

The World Health Organisation released its latest data on the virus. More than 441,000 cases have been recorded as of 25 October, of these, 5,712 resulted in death.

In South-East Asia, there were more than 42,000 cases and 605 deaths.

In the Western Pacific, the number of cases was just shy of the 130,000 mark with 465 deaths.

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