India confronts swine flu and panic
NEW DELHI: The streets of the western city of Pune were half empty, schools in Mumbai were ordered closed and people suffering aches flooded hospitals across the country as India confronted duelling outbreaks of Novel influenza A (H1N1) and panic.
Twenty people have died from the flu here and 1 283 have been confirmed infected. But fear of the flu has outpaced the virus itself.
“The amount of frenzy or hysteria is totally disproportionate to the overall reality of the disease,” Dr Jai Narain, the head of the regional communicable disease office for the World Health Organisation, said yesterday.
Breathless reports of Novel influenza A (H1N1) have dominated India’s 24-hour news channels, desperate for stories amid the August doldrums. That in turn has helped whip the public into a frenzy.
In New Delhi, where no deaths have been reported, people have begun wearing surgical masks in the street. In Lucknow, parents demanded their children be tested. “Over 1 000 people lined up at different hospitals ... Eleven of them tested positive,” Dr RR Bharati said.
In Mumbai the government closed all schools and movie theatres. The nearby city of Pune is India’s worst affected, with 12 of the country’s 20 deaths. There, the streets were half empty, the usual crowds shunned the shopping malls and many workers stopped showing up at offices. With schools closed, worried parents kept their children shut inside.
Many who did venture out wore surgical masks, despite a shortage that sent the price of a single mask skyrocketing from 5 rupees (83c) to 150 rupees.
“The situation in Pune is alarming considering the number of... positive cases and deaths. However, we appeal to people not to panic,” said Chandrakant Dalvi, a city official.
India’s government has set up testing centres around the country and plans to increase its stock of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu to 30 million doses.
In Pune, more than 11 000 people lined up to be tested for the virus and 73 tested positive. – AP
SAFETY FIRST: A devotee, wearing a mask against swine flu, on a human pyramid to celebrate Janmashtami, the anniversary of Hindu God Krishna’s birth, in Mumbai, India.