Ukraine shuts schools, halts campaigning over H1N1

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine closed schools and banned public meetings including election rallies and restricted travel on Friday for a three-week period after confirming its first death from H1N1 flu.

A couple wearing masks walk along a street in Kiev, October 30, 2009. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko announced the measures, saying the virus had reached epidemic levels in three parts of western Ukraine, where there has been an outbreak of respiratory illness since mid-October.

The epidemic coincides with the start of campaigning for a presidential election on January 17. Tymoshenko, herself a front-runner, said the emergency would affect campaign rallies.

“All our pre-election events have been canceled. They will not be held until the situation has stabilized,” she said in a televised statement.

President Viktor Yushchenko, a bitter rival of Tymoshenko’s, himself called off a public meeting in Kiev where he had been due to roll out his election program.

He told journalists that 11 people had died of H1N1, also called swine flu, contradicting a Health Ministry report of only one death. An aide and a ministry official said Yushchenko may have made a mistake.

The government allotted 500 million hryvnias ($63 million) for medical supplies to fight the virus, agencies said.

Yushchenko said Ukraine, already suffering the effects of a severe economic downturn, would turn to international institutions and foreign partners for help if the situation developed beyond Ukraine’s capacity to handle it.


“All educational institutions without exception ... will be put on a three-week holiday period,” Tymoshenko said. She indicated this could be extended if necessary.

“Apart from this, we will cancel all mass meetings ... for three weeks,” she told an emergency government session. “We will introduce a special system to stop unnecessary travel from one region to another.”

She said Ukraine was in touch with international football authorities to discuss whether the measures would have any effect on two international fixtures scheduled for November.

Ukraine is scheduled to host a UEFA Champions’ League soccer clash between Dynamo Kiev and Inter Milan on November 4 and a World Cup qualifying play-off between Ukraine and Greece on November 18.

“We are considering (imposing) a quarantine not only in the west but also across the country, because the virus is spreading very fast,” Health Minister Vasyl Knyazevych told reporters.

In Lviv, the main town in one of the affected regions and normally bustling on a Friday, there were significantly fewer people on the streets. Those who were wore handkerchiefs and scarves across the lower part of their faces.

“There is nothing in the pharmacies. What can I say? There is no medicine at all?” said one woman, Maria Shalyazhinska, queuing outside a pharmacy.

“How come nobody knew this epidemic was coming? Children are sick. The elderly are sick. There are no masks. People are queuing and waiting for supplies to come but nobody knows if they will come or not.”