Swine flu a pandemic, declares WHO

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NO KIDDING: A masked girl sits with a classmate at a kindergarten in Hong Kong on Thursday in the wake of the swine flu alarm.
NO KIDDING: A masked girl sits with a classmate at a kindergarten in Hong Kong on Thursday in the wake of the swine flu alarm.

Warning level raised from phase 5 to 6, the highest alert

GENEVA: The World Health Organisation told its member nations on Thursday it was declaring a swine flu pandemic — the first global flu epidemic in 41 years — as infections climbed in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere.

In a statement sent to health officials, WHO said it decided to raise the pandemic warning level from phase 5 to 6 — its highest alert — after holding an emergency meeting with its flu experts.

WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan was expected to make a formal announcement soon.

The long-awaited pandemic decision is scientific confirmation that a new flu virus has emerged and is quickly circling the globe. It will trigger drug-makers to speed up production of a swine flu vaccine and prompt governments to devote more money toward efforts to contain the virus.

“At this early stage, the pandemic can be characterised globally as being moderate in severity,” WHO said in the statement, urging nations not to close borders or restrict travel and trade.

WHO also told countries it was in “close dialogue” with flu vaccine makers and it believed the firms would work “to ensure the largest possible supply of pandemic vaccine in the months to come.” — AP

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