Ukraine Closes All Schools to Fight Swine Flu

By: Yana Sedova & Simon Shuster - AP Writers
By: Yana Sedova & Simon Shuster - AP Writers

Urging its citizens not to panic, Ukraine on Monday closed the nation's schools for a week to avoid the spread of swine flu and suggested that nightclubs, cinemas and food markets in the west also shut down.

The World Health Organization said Monday there was no evidence
that Ukraine had a bad outbreak of swine flu but at the
government's request it had sent a health team there to help the
country cope.

"But this is not an indication that the situation is severe,"
said WHO spokeswoman Liuba Negru. "The information we have gotten
(from the government), we have to double-check it and make sure it
is real, evidence-based information."

Ukraine's Health Ministry said Monday that 70 people in the
nation of 40 million have died of flu, but did not say how many of
those deaths were related to swine flu. Worldwide, outbreaks of
regular seasonal flu claim 50,000 lives each year.

Nevertheless, all schools have been closed for a week across
Ukraine, even in the capital, Kiev, where there have been no
confirmed cases of swine flu.

In western Ukraine, local authorities advised people to travel
only when necessary, a Health Ministry spokeswoman said.

All outdoor markets have been closed in the western region of
Lviv, where the governor also urged cinemas, cafes, nightclubs and
theaters to shut down until further notice.

Some observers, including the speaker of the parliament,
Vladimir Litvin, suggested that these measures are the result of
political wrangling ahead of the country's presidential election in
January. The pivotal vote could overturn the 2004 Orange Revolution
that swept a pro-Western government to power.

"We are seeing a political competition to see who will be the
first to lead this process (of fighting swine flu)," Litvin said,
according to the UNIAN news agency.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko met a Swiss shipment of
anti-viral drugs at the Kiev airport on Monday.

"The government has declared the situation an epidemic, but
there is absolutely no need to panic," she declared on national
television.

Her main rival, President Viktor Yushchenko, said thousands of
people were infected and called for assistance from NATO, the
European Commission, the United States, Russia and other countries.

Konstantin Bondarenko, director of the Gorshenin Institute, a
political consultancy, said that Tymoshenko has the most to lose
from public sentiment over the outbreak, as state health officials
answer to her.

"Right now all the candidates are weighing their political
options, looking around for a theme, and this is a very hot topic
right now. The panic is there, and they are acting on it,"
Bondarenko said.

After receiving the shipment of 300,000 doses of Tamiflu at
Kiev's Borispol airport, Tymoshenko said her government plans to
increase its hoard of the drug by another 300,000 to 950,000 doses.

"This is the supply that will reliably protect Ukraine,"
Tymoshenko said, ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Viktor Yanukovych, the Regions' Party candidate for the
presidency, has not commented on the swine flu uproar. Yanukovych,
who was beaten in 2005 by Yushchenko, is leading in the polls with
a platform that emphasizes closer ties with Russia.

During the past five years of Yushchenko's presidency, relations
with Moscow reached historic lows. Yushchenko's approval ratings at
home have fallen to single digits in the wake of the economic
crisis, which hit Ukraine hard, and years of political gridlock
with Tymoshenko.


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