Ukraine's Swine Flu Death Toll Rises To 34

KIEV, Ukraine -- The death toll from a swine flu outbreak in Ukraine rose to 34 on Saturday, as the government announced new measures to control the spread of the virus.

The participants of the Ministers' Cabinet session wear masks as they listen to Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in Ternopil in western Ukraine October 30, 2009.

Two of the victims were infants, Health Minister Vasyl Kniazevych told Channel 5 television.

As of Saturday morning, the flu was thought still to be limited in to the country's western provinces, but because of the number of suspected cases, a spread was likely, he said.

'The country must prepare for a wider outbreak,' Kniazevych said. 'Its direction of movement is towards central Ukraine.'

More than 80,000 people in the swine flu outbreak area were registered with authorities as displaying possible flu symptoms, but because of the similarity of swine flu symptoms to those of common flu, health workers were struggling to estimate the extent of the swine flu's spread, Kniazevych said.

'We had a problem with identifying the (swine flu) antibody in flu sufferers,' he said. 'There is a mass of work we have to do.'

Panic purchasing of flu remedies, surgical masks, and even citrus fruits took place in most major cities in the former Soviet republic, 1+1 television reported.

The swine flu deaths thus far have been limited to the nine western provinces, most along the borders with Slovakia, Poland, and Romania.

Shortages of over-the-counter medicines used to treat the common flu were reported as far away as the eastern city Zaporizhia, some 900 kilometres from the epicentre of the outbreak.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was scheduled to hold an emergency meeting with regional health officials Saturday, to discuss new disease control measures.

Invoking a rarely-used law allowing the state to take temporary control of private property, Tymoshenko declared all health-related organizations in the country, including privately-owned health clinics and hospitals, to be 'directly subordinate' to the government, effective immediately.

The government would pay particular attention to medical supply retailers, to head off artificial goods shortages and price gouging, she said, in comments reported by the Unian news agency.

Retail price spikes of as much as 300 per cent for cold and flu remedies have taken place in recent years in Ukraine, during avian flu outbreaks.

Tymoshenko claimed privately-operated chemists in the country were 'absolutely supplied in full volume with all necessary medical supplies,' contradicting spot reports of shortages.

Trains operated by the national railroad Ukrzhelesnitsiya were running according to schedule, but staff were ordered to wear surgical masks, and instructed to report passengers who appear to have flu symptoms.

Medical personnel aboard 'every passenger train' were available to provide first aid to potential flu sufferers, and would report people treated to the Health Ministry, according to statement on the Ukrzhelesnitsiya website.

Traffic in Ukrainian airports and intercity highways meanwhile appeared to be at normal levels despite a call by Tymoshenko for Ukrainians to avoid long-distance travel if possible.

Traffic police and airport security personnel have been briefed to screen travellers visually, Tymoshenko said.

All schools, kindergartens, and universities were closed for a three-week period on Friday. A ban on massed gatherings - forcing the wholesale cancellation of concerts and political rallies - was also in effect.

Ukraine's national security council on Friday approved the equivalent of 55 million dollars in emergency funding, for swine flu control.

President Viktor Yushchenko on Friday put the number of deaths from swine flu at 11 and said the country was 'in serious need' of foreign assistance.

Source: DPA