Sunday, 15 November 2009

Flu fear grips Moscow

Don't panic! That's the official word from above as authorities aim to calm the capital's fear of swine flu. Televised scenes from neighbouring countries such as Ukraine - where entire districts have been locked down under quarantine due to rampant flu outbreaks - have been stoking the flu fear furnace.
The nation's deputy health minister, Veronika Skvortsova, said last week that Russia was better placed than most to withstand the flu onslaught.
"Fears concerning a negative development in the scenario of the pandemic are unfounded," RIA Novosti quoted Skvortsova as saying. "We are hoping for the best, but are preparing for the worst."
As of Monday, Russia had 4,560 confirmed cases of swine flu, 14 of which had been fatal as of Friday. Skvortsova said that approximately 6 per cent of cases were serious, with 25 per cent of these cases requiring respiratory support in hospital.
As part of efforts to combat the bug, authorities brought forward the starting date for a nationwide vaccination campaign from the usual December to November 9. Timofei Peshkov, press secretary for Mikrogen, a company that is manufacturing the vaccine, said that workers in its two plants in Ufa and Irkutsk had been toiling 12 to 16 hours a day, "working their fingers to the bone". Mikrogen said it had already produced several million doses of vaccine.
First in line for the new vaccine are people working in essential services fields such as water and gas works, housing, transport and emergency services.
"In that way we are trying to create a safety screen to block the infection's spread," said Skvortsova. Late November should see health workers vaccinated, followed by pregnant women, the elderly and then children.
Moscow's multiple measures
The capital has not avoided the flu's feverish grasp. The city branch of the State Consumer Department said that incidents of flu and respiratory disease exceeded epidemic levels by 93.5 per cent in Moscow.
"In the period from October 26 to November 1, 2009, there were 166,129 cases of flu and respiratory disease, of which 105,746 were children," said a statement from the department. "Compared to the previous week, this was an increase of 57.2 per cent, which exceeded the level for the same period last year by 2.6 times."
The city's health department said that Moscow was well prepared to battle the epidemic.
"In the Stolichniye Apteki chain of chemists there is a full range of necessary medical preparations with a total value of some 100 million roubles," said a statement from the department. "They have 500,000 medical masks." According to the service, some 350,000 masks have been sold over the last two weeks.
Other measures that have been taken include house calls for pregnant women.
"In particular, the monitoring of registered pregnant women will now take place predominantly at home," read a statement from the health department. The statement said that any pregnant women found to have flu would be treated with doctor's house calls on a daily basis.
Moscow's theatregoers are to be issued with medical masks at the theatres, said First Deputy Mayor Lyudmila Shvetsova. "If a person comes to the theatre there is nowhere he can escape from a sneezing citizen sitting nearby," said Shvetsova, adding that with the masks theatregoers could fence themselves off.
The city's school children have an extra week of time off as the autumn break has been extended by a week to November 15, said the city's sanitary anti-epidemic committee. "The extension of the school holidays by a week is due to the difficult situation with flu and respiratory diseases that exists in the city at present," read a statement by the committee.
Commuter concern
The Moscow metro has a three-stage disinfection system in place to keep the transport system as pathogen-free as possible.
Deputy head of the Kaluzhskaya depot, Dmitry Dremov, said that every wagon is disinfected on a regular basis.
"Once a day we clean and disinfect [them] with the help of chemicals," said Dremov. "Cleaning with steam and ultraviolet light is carried out once a week."
Alexander Kapov, press secretary for Mosgortrans, which runs the city's trams, trolleybuses and buses, said that the vehicles were washed down every day after they returned to their depots.
"Besides this we regularly disinfect the transport in order to fight seasonal diseases," said Kapov.
The deputy health minister said that despite the best efforts of the public transport officials to keep the systems disease-free, to avoid falling ill citizens should still wear masks when using public transport, as "nothing more effective has yet been thought up," said Skvortsova.

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