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Countries step up safety measures as flu cases rise

COUNTRIES from around the world are stepping up safety measures against swine flu today, as the number of confirmed and suspected cases continued to climb.

Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova announced late yesterday that the number of both suspected and confirmed deaths from swine flu had reached 103 in Mexico, and the number of cases under observation had risen to 1,614, up from 1,324.

In the United States, 20 cases have been confirmed in five states.

In New Zealand, a total of 13 students who recently traveled to Mexico have been tested positive for Influenza A, of which swine flu is a subtype. These are first reported suspected cases in the Asia-Pacific region.

Yesterday, Canada became the third country to confirm human cases of swine flu with six people falling ill, all of them linked to people who had traveled to Mexico. David Butler-Jones, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, said all the six had recovered and were doing well, adding: "These are probably not the last cases we'll see in Canada."

Suspected cases of swine flu were also reported in Israel, France, Brazil and Spain.

Mexico City was semi-paralyzed yesterday after its 20 million residents were ordered to avoid large gatherings. Pharmacies and supermarkets were running out of face masks.

The City government yesterday said it would distribute a million face masks on public transport systems, including the metro, metro buses and light rail. Volunteers are also handing out face masks at street intersections.

The US administration yesterday declared a public health emergency, immediately after at least 20 cases have been confirmed of swine flu in the country.

US officials will begin asking travelers about illness if they are entering the country from areas with confirmed swine flu cases. Passengers would no be barred from getting into the US, but they could be referred for further testing, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a White House briefing.

Many countries have issued travel warnings for Mexico and the United States.

Many Asian countries have put in place quarantine and precautionary plans which were used during the SARS epidemic and bird flu outbreaks.

The Thai government today installed infra-red cameras at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport to detect unusual body temperatures as a preventive measure against the spread of the disease.

Singapore began using thermal scanners yesterday at Changi International Airport to check passengers arriving from the United States for flu-like symptoms. These checks will be extended to all passengers by Wednesday.

Russia has said passengers from North America running a fever would be quarantined until the cause is determined.

Tokyo's Narita airport has installed a device to test the temperatures of passengers arriving from Mexico. Indonesia has increased surveillance at entry points for travelers with flu-like symptoms.

Several countries have announced that they will test pork imports for a new strain of the swine flu virus, a combination of human, swine and avian flu viruses.

Russia has banned the import of meat products from Mexico, and the US states of California, Texas and Kansas.

A WHO emergency committee will meet for a second time Tuesday, examining the spread of the virus to decide whether to increase the alert for a possible pandemic, or a global epidemic after the UN agency declared the outbreaks in Mexico and the US a "public health emergency of international concern" on Saturday.


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