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Dozens of new cases in Japan as schools are shut

JAPANESE health officials confirmed dozens of new cases of swine flu in waves of announcements yesterday, as the government shut down schools and canceled community activities in the affected cities.

The country now has at least 78 confirmed cases, most of them teenagers.

The latest announcement last night included 33 high school students, two junior high school students and a child in the western prefectures of Osaka and Hyogo.

Health officials confirmed some 70 domestic swine flu patients over the weekend, most of them high school students in the same region. All tested positive for the H1N1 virus and were recovering in local hospitals or their homes, health officials said.

Health and Welfare Ministry official Haruki Ogawa said the number could rise quickly with results on more viral sample tests pending.

The news of the rapid spread of the virus at schools came a day after Japan confirmed its first domestic case of swine flu in another student in the western port city of Kobe. Japan's first cases were believed to have been contracted outside the country.

The students did not travel overseas recently, but tested positive for the same strain that has killed more than 70 people worldwide.

The government immediately ordered schools closed in parts of the affected cities. Kobe also canceled its annual festival and other events planned for the weekend. Sales people at stores and restaurants and officials at train stations in the region started wearing masks as a precaution.

"We have not determined how the virus spread in the region, and we are doing our best to track down the route of the infections and contain them," Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said yesterday.

Japan had put in force strict quarantine measures at airports to try to keep the virus from spreading, but the government's flu task force decided on Saturday to scale down those efforts and shift the focus to containing the domestic outbreak.

Japan's first four cases were spotted at an airport quarantine. Three high school students and a teacher from Osaka returned from a school trip to Canada in early May and were detected at Tokyo's international airport.

Since then, hospitals have set up special "fever clinics" to separate possible swine flu carriers from other outpatients. Local governments have set up hotlines to guide people with flu symptoms.


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