Schools start year under flu watch

Both Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou visited primary schools yesterday, the former in Athens and the latter in Thessaloniki, to express their support for teachers and pupils who are starting the new academic year amid fears of a possible swine flu pandemic. Karamanlis, in his speech before a crowd of children at a primary school in the western district of Peristeri, addressed them directly about the risk of the H1N1 virus and sought to allay any concerns. «You are all aware of the new flu and of the greater need for cleanliness,» said the premier, who noted that it was also the first day at school for his twins. Karamanlis was flanked by Education Minister Aris Spilio-topoulos, who commented on reports regarding wages owed to cleaning staff, whose role has gained in significance since the appearance of the virus. «Let’s finish with this story about the cleaners – all the money destined for their wages has been disbursed,» Spiliotopoulos said, adding that «some municipalities have failed to release the funds, for political reasons.» Papandreou, in his speech to children at a school in Thessaloniki, stressed that the state owed children «the right infrastructure and the right schools» – an indirect dig at ruling New Democracy relating to staff shortages and overcrowded classrooms. In schools across the country yesterday, children and parents were given leaflets with guidelines on minimizing the risks of contracting swine flu. School staff have been asked to provide regional authorities with regular updates on pupils displaying symptoms of swine flu and absences. Parents can call a telephone hot line on 1150 for more information.