Mumbai schools close over fears

MUMBAI: Indian authorities on Wednesday ordered all schools and colleges in the vast city of Mumbai to shut for a week over fears about the spread of swine flu.

The state government of Maharashtra has had the highest incidence of swine flu fatalities in India, with four people dying over the last ten days in Pune, 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Mumbai.

"The government has decided to close down schools, colleges and coaching classes in the entire city for a week starting on Thursday," said Suresh Wandile, spokesman for the state's chief minister.

"We have seen a rise in cases of swine flu cases in the state. We need to take care, hence these precautionary measures," he said, adding that all cinemas and theatres would also close for three days.

Mumbai, home of the Bollywood film industry, is a teeming industrial and financial city with an estimated population of 18 million people.

Public concern in India about the spread of the A(H1N1) virus has mounted since the country's first death from the disease on August 3.

As of Wednesday, 15 people infected by the virus had died, while more than 1,000 people had tested positive, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

The health ministry put the death toll at nine, saying it updated its figures every evening.

With the government appealing for calm, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad stressed that swine flu should be put in the context of other health risks in India.

"It is not the only virus we have in our country. We have much more fatal diseases, much more costly diseases," he told reporters in Delhi earlier this week.

With most confirmed cases so far among people who have returned from overseas, tens of thousands of travellers arriving at India's international airports from affected countries have been screened.

A 24-hour helpline and website have been set up, public hospitals have been given responsibility for testing and isolation of suspected cases, and 100,000 doses of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu have been sent to affected cities.

India's fiercely competitive cable news channels have devoted hours of airtime to the virus daily, frequently featuring reporters wearing masks stood in front of long lines of people waiting outside hospitals.

As many public hospitals have been overwhelmed, the parents of the country's first victim accused doctors of negligence and demanded 50 million rupees (one million dollars) in compensation for alleged delays and mistakes in her treatment.

The Maharashtra state government also urged for 'low-key' celebrations of two key festivals this month.