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Lhasa Fears Swine Flu

October 18, 2009

Radio Free Asia (RFA)
October 15, 2009

The Tibetan region reports its first death from
the H1N1 virus, and residents fear more deaths to come.

HONG KONG -- Residents of the Tibetan capital
Lhasa say they fear a spike in infections with
H1N1 influenza, while Chinese officials decline to give infection figures.

"This disease has become very serious. Most of
the victims are students," said one Tibetan man living in Lhasa.

"The leadership seems to have been more engrossed
in celebrations of the 60th anniversary, and they
seem to be underplaying the seriousness of the
epidemic," he said, referring to nationwide
celebrations of Communist Party rule on Oct. 1.

China announced its first swine flu death in the Tibetan region last week.

The victim was an 18 year-old Tibetan woman who
had been hospitalized in Lhasa the week before with severe symptoms.

Officials have sent 200,000 doses of influenza A
(H1N1) vaccine to the region since, according to
a statement on the Health Ministry's Web site.

No outreach

But residents say that so far there have been no
Tibetan-language programs on radio or television
to educate the population on how to prevent swine
flu, which was declared a pandemic in June.

Another Tibetan man said that the local swine flu
infection rate is considered "very high" by Lhasa residents.

"The number of people arriving on trains from
different parts of China is increasing, and there
are huge concentrations of people at railway
stations and other places where people gather.
The chance of getting infected is extremely high," he said.

"It is very serious in the Lhasa area, but the
authorities are trying to underplay the spread of this disease."

No information

A Tibetan woman living in Lhasa said that
Tibetans with swine flu symptoms in the area of
the city near Sera monastery, her own children
among them, have been taken to hospital with the disease.

An employee who answered the phone at the Tibetan
Autonomous Region Epidemic Prevention Department
declined to give official figures for the number
of H1N1 infections in the region.

"You are not a Chinese reporter," she said. "We
can speak only to Chinese reporters."

"I cannot give you information about the disease," she said.

Chinese health officials have warned that the
number of swine flu cases in the country could
reach 10,000 by the peak of the disease season this northern winter.

School outbreaks

Of the 4,415 cases of H1N1 reported in China so
far, the Health Ministry said 3,577 people had
recovered, with one death reported.

Zeng Guang, of the Chinese Center for Disease
Control and Prevention, said that recent clusters
of outbreaks in schools are just the beginning.

"The virus will definitely sicken more people,
with new infections rising more quickly than
before, though no mutations have so far been
detected," he was quoted in the official
English-language China Daily newspaper.

Zeng also warned the virus would now begin to
spread to small cities, to remote and rural
areas, and among groups such as the army and
factory workers during the fall and winter months.

China's government rolled out the first H1N1
pandemic flu vaccine last week, officials said.

Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service.
Director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated by Karma
Dorjee. Written for the Web in English by
Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
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