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Human cases of swine flu exceed 1,200

AS the number of confirmed human cases of swine flu rose to 1,223 in 21 countries yesterday, the UN health agency urged governments to refrain from taking rash but unproven measures to contain the disease.

The World Health Organization's top official said countries should base their actions on scientific evidence, pointedly refraining from criticizing any specific steps governments have taken in response to the outbreak.

"Let me make a strong plea to countries to refrain from introducing measures that are economically and socially disruptive, yet have no scientific justification and bring no clear public health benefit," Margaret Chan said in a video message to the UN General Assembly in New York.

Also yesterday, Mexico chartered a plane to China to bring home its citizens who are quarantined, declaring that the swine flu epidemic was no reason for "repressive and discriminatory measures."

WHO flu chief Keiji Fukuda said quarantines were a "long-established principle" that makes sense in the early phases of an infectious disease outbreak.

Mexican officials also declared the epidemic to be waning, but medical experts worldwide said it was too early to make that call.

The virus spread to Colombia in the first confirmed case in South America, where flu season is about to begin. A New York City school that had closed after dozens of students were infected with the virus reopened yesterday.

More cases were confirmed in North America and Europe - including Portugal's first.

And in Hong Kong, 350 people remained isolated yesterday in a hotel after a Mexican traveler there was determined to have swine flu.

Mexico said yesterday it had 727 cases of swine flu and 26 deaths from the virus.

Health officials raised the number of confirmed US swine flu cases to 286 yesterday. The new number reflects streamlining in federal procedures and the results of tests by states, which have only recently begun confirming cases, said Dr Anne Schuchat of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC's acting chief, Dr Richard Besser, said swine flu is spreading just as easily as regular winter flu.

"The good news is when we look at this virus right now, we're not seeing some of the things in the virus that have been associated in the past with more severe flu," Besser said. "That's encouraging, but it doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet."

In Alberta, Canada, officials quarantined about 220 pigs infected by a worker who recently returned from Mexico. It was the first documented case of the H1N1 virus being passed from a human to another species. Canada stressed that pigs often get the flu and there is no danger in eating pork.


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