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Flu outbreak closes schools in Hong Kong

Thu., March 13, 2008

HONG KONG – Hong Kong ordered more than half a million primary and kindergarten students Wednesday to stay home for two weeks because of a flu outbreak in one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

The government also asked one of its top scientists to investigate the deaths of three children. But the World Health Organization said only two of the children tested positive for the flu, and both had other diseases as well.

The outbreak has not been linked to bird flu, which was detected in birds in Hong Kong.

The government has ordered all kindergartens, primary and special education schools closed for two weeks starting today, Health Secretary York Chow said. Schoolchildren – along with teachers and parents – wore masks Wednesday as they walked outside.

The schools had been expected to start their Easter holiday in a little over a week, though the date varies with each school. Chow said bringing the holiday forward would help reduce cross-infection among schoolchildren and calm public fears.

The closure will affect nearly 560,000 students at 1,745 schools.

Since March 6, health officials have recorded nine flu outbreaks, mostly at schools, affecting 532 people in the territory of nearly 7 million.

Chow emphasized that there was no sign of “any significant change of the virus that makes it exceptionally more virulent than the usual flu virus.”

The flu cases so far are scattered across the territory, which does not suggest the spread of an exceptionally virulent virus, P.L. Ho, a scientist at the University of Hong Kong’s microbiology department, said in an interview with Cable TV.


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