Western Japan city to close schools due to new flu

  • World
  • Saturday, 16 May 2009

TOKYO (Reuters) - A city in western Japan will close some public schools for a week after eight people were confirmed as being infected with the new H1N1 influenza on Saturday.

Three of the eight are teenage students from the same school in Kobe city, Kyodo news agency reported, citing the Health Ministry and local authorities.

Japan already had four cases of the new virus from people returning from abroad, but the three students were the first confirmed cases involving people who have not been overseas.

The other five cases in the city are from a different high school, Kyodo said.

Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said authorities would try to determine who had been in close contact with the infected students and take steps such as asking such people to stay at home in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Utmost efforts will be made to prevent the infection from spreading," Masuzoe told a news conference.

"The most important issue is to protect the health and lives of citizens, but at the same time, the freedom of individual and economic activity must be respected," Masuzoe said.

Yasuo Kawahara, an official at Kobe city hall, said public schools in certain parts of the city, including kindergartens and elementary schools as well as junior and senior high schools, would be closed until next Friday.

The city has also decided to cancel a festival that had been planned this weekend, Kawahara said by telephone.

At a separate news conference, officials at the Health Ministry said it was planning to gradually scale down quarantine inspections on entry to Japan and shift to measures to prevent the domestic spread of the influenza.

The new virus is behaving much like a seasonal influenza strain -- spreading rapidly and causing mainly mild symptoms.

On Friday, the World Health Organisation warned against a false sense of security from waning and apparently mild outbreaks of H1N1 flu, saying the worst may not be over.

But WHO Director-General Margaret Chan could not say whether the U.N. agency might raise its pandemic alert to the highest level from the current 5 on a scale of 6.

(Additional reporting by Charlotte Cooper)

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