In­dia con­fronts swine flu and panic

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

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

PIC­TURE: 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.

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