M A I N   N E W S

H1N1 claims five more
After Pune, Mumbai shuts down schools, malls
Shiv Kumar & Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

n Govt secures 72 lakh Tamiflu capsules
n Cracks whip on drug, mask hoarders

Mumbai/New Delhi, August 12
Continuing its deadly march, the H1N1 virus today claimed five more lives, including four in the ‘epidemic city’ Pune, taking the death toll in the country to 17. The fifth casualty was reported from Nashik. Taking a serious view of the situation, Maharashtra announced unprecedented measures across the state to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

Subdued celebrations

The ruling and Opposition parties in Maharashtra have decided to curb the ‘dahi handi’ celebrations in Mumbai and Pune due to the spread of the virus. At a meeting of leaders of political parties, it was decided to curb these celebrations in which groups of youth form pyramids and compete with each other to break earthen pots hung at great heights.

Educational institutions, movie theatres and shopping malls in Mumbai have been told to shut down. While educational institutions will be shut for seven days, shopping malls and theatres would be closed for the next three days, officials said.

A similar order is already in place in Pune, where 48-year-old bus driver Gautam Shelar became the latest victim of swine flu. He was admitted to government-run Sasoon Hospital in a critical state some four days ago. He died this evening, hours after 50-year-old Nita Meghani, schoolboy Babu Kuland and 29-year-old Shrawani Deshpande succumbed to the virus at the same hospital.

Deshpande died following Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, typical to H1N1. In Nashik, Dr Rupesh Gangurde died at the civil hospital, immediately prompting the state government to issue stern social distancing directives to people. Gargunde was admitted to hospital in an unconscious state two days ago and put on a ventilator. The test report confirming that he had swine flu was received by the hospital late Tuesday. Wednesday saw the highest number of deaths in a day since the first victim, Reeda Sheikh, 14, died in Pune August 3.

At least four patients continued to be in a serious condition at the Sassoon hospital, said Pune district collector Chandrakant Dalvi.

In Mumbai’s Hiranandani Hospital, two swine flu patients were in serious condition. A number of schools have already shut in Mumbai as a precautionary measure. Principals of many schools in the city are planning to curtail Diwali and Christmas vacations to make up for lost time due to premature closing. Health officials today confirmed that officially four districts in Maharashtra have been classified as epidemic-hit following the spread of swine flu. Nashik was the fourth district to be notified under the Epidemic Act in addition to Pune, Mumbai and Satara. Under this act, health officials are empowered to forcibly quarantine anyone suffering from an infectious disease.

Back in the national capital, two patients are critical at RML hospital. The state government today identified six private labs for testing. It is awaiting clearance from the National Institute for Disease Control to start the work.

More such capacity would be needed in coming days with the virus declining in the southern hemisphere and making inroads into Asian countries. WHO says it has killed 1462 people globally so far. Meanwhile, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government was making all-out efforts to develop new vaccines for H1N1.

But experts feel India should move to place vaccine orders with potential global manufacturers, lest rich nations book the supplies. Already, advanced countries like UK, France, Canada, Australia and Switzerland have signed deals with vaccine-makers to get stocks as they become available.

“Health minister has said India would import the vaccine if it is available elsewhere. But he should ensure he gets it when it is there. Negotiations must start now,” said a public health expert.

That apart, the Central teams have reached state capitals to help them identify more facilities for screening, testing and treatment, with the government assuring that private hospitals, once ready for treatment, would be given Tamiflu.

The Healthy Ministry officials also held emergency meetings with state drug controllers asking them to clamp down on hoarders of masks. “We advise people not to ask for N-95 masks as they are meant only for those who come for testing and treatment in hospitals. Even our doctors screening people at airports are wearing three-layered masks which are easily and cheaply available,” said Vineet Choudhry, joint secretary, health.

In a major move, the government also secured procurement of 72 lakh Tamiflu capsules from six major drug producers today. Meeting Hetero, Ranbaxy, Strides, Rosche and Cipla today, the officials also finalised delivery schedules for two crore capsules for the national stockpile.

The government, however, appears concerned about spurious anti-viral drugs entering the market and has asked the state drug controllers to check the practice and ensure Tamiflu was not being retailed. To better inform the public on H1N1, the ministry is likely to launch a website tomorrow. It will be called www.swineflu-mohfw.nic.in.



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