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India Steps Up Measures to Control Spread of Swine Flu



India is stepping up measures to control the spread of swine flu, as the death toll from the H1N1 virus rises to 20. The financial hub, Mumbai, has shut down schools and the government has warned against hoarding of face masks and flu drugs.

In India's financial hub, Mumbai, students stayed at home after schools and colleges were shut for a week, starting Thursday, to prevent the spread of swine flu. Movie theaters have also been closed. Authorities have called it a "precautionary measure".

Mumbai is the second city in the western Maharashtra state to shut educational institutions. Pune, which is 120 kilometers southeast of Mumbai, did the same earlier, in the week.

The toll from swine flu has risen rapidly since the country's first death was reported, last week. Most of the victims are in Maharashtra.

The infection is spreading ahead of a string of festivals to be observed in the coming weeks. The government is urging people to have low-key celebrations and to avoid large gatherings during these events.

Panicked people have been buying face masks, in a bid to ward off the infection. But, as reports of shortages of face masks surfaced, joint Health Secretary Vineet Choudhary warned against any hoarding of masks and flu drugs.

"Shortages will not be tolerated and, if there is hoarding and black marketing on these items, then the governments need to come down with a heavy hand," Choudhary said. "This is a public health emergency and a crisis in the country and we expect that citizens from all sections of society will cooperate with the government in coping with this crisis."

Health authorities are asking people not to overreact, as thousands have been rushing to public hospitals for tests. Health officials are reassuring people that the disease can be treated easily and that India has enough stock of the anti-flu drug, Tamiflu.

The health ministry has asked states to establish more testing centers and is also asking private hospitals to help cope with the rising number of patients.

So far, about 1,200 cases have been recorded in the country. But there are worries that the numbers may rise quickly, because of the country's large population and crowded cities, making it difficult for an overburdened public health system to handle the infection.

Swine flu first emerged in Mexico in April and has since spread to most countries.

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