From: Reuters
Published March 12, 2008 06:43 PM

Hong Kong to shut schools to contain flu outbreak

By Tan Ee Lyn

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's government ordered all kindergartens and primary schools to close for two weeks starting from Thursday to contain an outbreak of seasonal influenza in the territory.

"The flu season will continue for some time, so if we can start the (Easter) holiday season earlier, students don't have to go to school and risk infecting each other, we would stand a better chance of preventing this outbreak from spreading," Health Secretary York Chow told reporters on Wednesday.

The move follows the death of a 7-year-old boy on Tuesday after he was admitted to hospital last week with flu-like symptoms. The government has appointed a group of experts to investigate the cause of the boy's death.

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The experts will also examine the deaths of two other children. A three-year-old girl contracted seasonal H3N2 flu but the cause of death of a two-year-old boy is still unknown.

Infectious diseases expert Lo Wing-lok said the government's decision to shut schools was excessive.

"I would say mortality in children while tragic, does occur from time to time, this is not something indicating that we are facing a pandemic outbreak," Lo said.

Hong Kong is in the grip of seasonal flu, with outbreaks reported in a growing number of schools.

An increasing number of parents have chosen to keep their children at home for fear that they may be infected by their schoolmates. Those who attended school on Wednesday wore surgical masks, bringing back memories of the days in 2003, when SARS hit Hong Kong, also around this time of the year.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn and James Pomfret)

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