A Health Ministry team is in Pune to monitor the situation. As part of the Centre's efforts to contain the pandemic, a new website will be launched to create awareness. The States have been asked to set up more isolation wards.

With swine flu claiming its fourth victim in the country – a 43-year-old NRI in Ahmedabad – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday asked Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to step up the preparedness and ensure closer coordination between the Health Ministry and the State governments to check the spread of the highly contagious disease.

Dr. Singh, who called up the Minister to take stock of the situation, also stressed the need for creating more awareness and checking spread of misinformation on the disease, and asking State governments to create more isolation wards in hospitals and train more doctors and paramedical staff to deal with any eventuality.

Mr. Azad told journalists: “We are going to launch a dedicated website on swine flu on Monday to create more awareness of the disease, give all necessary information and updates about it.” So far, two people have died in Pune and one each in Mumbai and Ahmedabad due to “delayed diagnosis.”

A Health Ministry team was in Pune to monitor the situation, while another team was being rushed to Mumbai.

“We fear that some clusters might have developed in these two cities as many swine flu cases have been reported from there. Our teams would try the ‘contact tracing’ method so that anyone suspected of carrying the virus could be treated. The Maharashtra government has been told to make it mandatory for big private hospitals to create isolation wards to treat swine flu patients,” Mr. Azad said.

He urged people to come forward and report if they have any symptoms related to the disease or had come into contact with flu patients. He asked people not to panic. The government was in control of the situation, he asserted. India has done fairly well in tackling the spread of the disease so far, keeping in mind its population. While 436 deaths have so far been reported from the U.S., in Argentina the figure stood at 337 and in Australia 85.

The Minister said swine flu cases might go up owing to the highly contagious nature of the disease.

The Centre had asked the State governments to step up their preparedness. “All State governments have been asked to set up their own swine flu helplines, create more quarantine wards not only in their hospitals but also in big private hospitals.”

Pointing out that the disease was so far confined mostly to metros and mini-metros, Mr. Azad said: “We have already provided over one lakh Tamiflu capsules, the only cure for A(H1N1) influenza, in each of the eight badly-affected cities. We are planning to provide at least 10,000 Tamiflu capsules in each district. We might also consider selling the medicine in the open market, but the problem is that it could lead to hoarding of the medicine or people consuming it arbitrarily and developing short-term immunity, which could prove fatal if they actually get infected later.”