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Flu fears prompt Australia to scrap 2-day meet

A SWIMMING event in Melbourne was cancelled due to fears about the H1N1 virus yesterday, but a top Australian health official played down the flu's threat and said organizers had not sought government advice.

The Telstra Grand Prix, a mixed short and long-course event scheduled for June 20-21, had been called off in the best interests of the swimmers, Kevin Neil, CEO of Swimming Australia, said in a statement yesterday.

The announcement came a day after an entire rugby league team was quarantined after one of its players contracted the virus following a match in Melbourne last week.

"Swimming Australia has a duty of care in relation to our athletes, as well as ensuring we give them the best chance possible to prepare for the World Championships in Rome," said Neil.

"It is a regrettable decision to have to make, yet one that we have made with all the information available."

Roughly half of Australia's squad for the world championships in Rome this year had been expected to compete at the Melbourne event including Brenton Rickard, who took silver in the men's 200 meter backstroke at the Beijing Olympics, and women's 100m freestyle bronze medallist Cate Campbell.

Neil said a high proportion of school students had been expected to participate in the meeting.

Several Australian states have imposed quarantine restrictions to keep students away from school for up to a week after returning from excursions to the state of Victoria, where Melbourne is the capital city.

Of Australia's 1,211 total cases, 1,011 have been reported in Victoria alone, Australian Health Minister Nicola Roxon told reporters yesterday. The health minister described the event's cancellation as "regrettable" and said Swimming Australia had not consulted government health officers in making the decision.

Fewer than 10 of the flu cases nationwide had required hospitalization, she added.

"I would urge those who are organizing events to make sure that their decisions are based on medical advice and the nature of course of the event to be held," Roxon said. "I need to emphasise that the public health advice is very clearly that there is no need to restrict domestic travel, that this isn't an appropriate or a proportionate response to the mild, to date, display of H1N1 in Australia."


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