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Diocese braces for swine flu outbreak

Updated: August 11, 2009 10:04 AM GMT
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Poona diocese has closed all its educational institutions and postponed several programs as swine flu claimed its fifth victim in the western Indian city on Aug. 11.


Swine flu is spreading in India, sparking panic in the western city of Pune which has seen five deaths linked to the disease

Elsewhere in the country, the disease has claimed five other victims and affected nearly 900 people. The worst hit is Pune (formerly Poona), the cultural capital of Maharashtra state. The Pune administration too has directed educational institutions to close for a week as more cases of infection were reported. The diocese´s 50 schools and three colleges closed as more cases were reported in the last three days in the city, said Father Louise D´Mello, secretary of the Poona Diocesan Board of Education. The priest, who is also the principal of Vidya Bhavan Higher Secondary School, said it was "painful and sad" that many students have contracted the virus. All Catholic institutions will close for seven days starting Aug. 11 as a precautionary measure, he said, adding that all their 1,900 students have been instructed not to leave their homes during the week. The city´s first victim was a student of St. Anne´s High School managed by the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary. The 14-year-old Muslim girl died on Aug. 3. Sister Silvia Coelho, the principal, said the ninth grader´s death was "tragic and painful" and the management immediately closed the school for two days as a mark of respect. Sister Coelho said government authorities tested all her 2,200 girls for the virus and two more girls tested positive, sparking panic in the city. The government medical teams then disinfected all the classrooms, the nun added. Janice Fernandes, chairperson of the parish council of St. Patrick´s Cathedral, said the parish has postponed its Confirmation ceremony as 19 girls from St. Anne´s High School would be involved. The children were attending Confirmation classes at Bishop´s House for the past one month. "We did not want to take any chance of spreading the infection," the mother of a college-going daughter said. Father Malcolm Sequeira, Poona diocesan spokesperson, said the diocese has canceled catechism class on Sundays as the city reported more deaths. He said 800 children attend catechism classes and 182 children attended Confirmation classes at the Bishop´s House. He said the diocese would announce new dates for Confirmation. Father Sequeira said the diocese will also issue prayer leaflets in two days "as only prayers can heal, deliver us from the pandemic disease that is spreading rapidly." Jesuit Father Peter D´Cruz, manager of Loyola High School, said they closed the school for two days after two of their 1,500 students tested positive in the first week of August. St. Joseph High School, another school managed by the Jesus and Mary congregation, cancelled its prize-giving ceremony on Aug. 7. School officials said it was a "precautionary move." Father D´Mello said some principals and other representatives of Catholic schools attended a meeting convened by the Maharashtra state health directorate in the first week of August. "We are meticulously following the heath advisory issued by the state health officials," he added.

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