May 16, 2009 / 5:07 AM / 10 years ago

Western Japan city to close schools due to new flu

TOKYO, May 16 (Reuters) - A city in western Japan will close some public schools for a week after one high school student was confirmed as being infected with the new H1N1 influenza on Saturday and two others were suspected of having the virus.

The confirmed case was a teenage boy in Kobe city, a Health Ministry official said. The two other students, from the same high school, were undergoing further tests, the official added.

Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said authorities would try to determine who had been in close contact with the infected student and take steps such as asking such people to refrain from leaving their homes in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Utmost efforts will be made to prevent the infection from spreading," Masuzoe told a news conference.

"The most important issue is to protect the health and lives of citizens, but at the same time, the freedom of individual and economic activity must be respected," Masuzoe said.

Japan has had four cases of the new influenza virus, but this is the first confirmed case involving someone who has not been overseas.

Yasuo Kawahara, an official at Kobe city hall, said public schools in certain parts of the city, including kindergartens and elementary schools as well as junior and senior high schools, would be closed until next Friday.

The city has also decided to cancel a festival that had been planned this weekend, Kawahara said by telephone.

The new virus is behaving much like a seasonal influenza strain — spreading rapidly and causing mainly mild symptoms, but severe illness in some people.

On Friday, the World Health Organisation warned against a false sense of security from waning and apparently mild outbreaks of H1N1 flu, saying the worst may not be over. [ID:nLF510908]

But WHO Director-General Margaret Chan could not say whether the U.N. agency might raise its pandemic alert to the highest level from the current 5 on a scale of 6. (Reporting by Masayuki Kitano; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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