First Athens schools closed due to swine flu

Health authorities yesterday decided to completely shut down two Attica secondary schools where dozens of pupils and staff have contracted swine flu. Earlier this week, authorities suspended two classes at a school in Haidari, western Athens, and another two in the northern suburb of Melissia, after some 30 pupils and a teacher were diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. Reports of additional cases at the two schools yesterday led to their closure. Classes were also suspended at two private schools – the Hellenic-American Educational Foundation in Psychico and Pierce College in Aghia Paraskevi – after dozens of students reportedly displayed symptoms of swine flu. Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said the closure of the state schools, which are to remain shut for at least week, was a «successful first response» to the virus threat. He added that authorities would continue to monitor some 12,500 primary and secondary schools nationwide where absences due to swine flu symptoms range from 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent of the student population. According to the ministry’s operations center, set up to oversee the state’s response to the spread of swine flu, around 5,000 primary and secondary school pupils have manifested symptoms of the H1N1 virus over the past three weeks. Panagiotis Efstathiou, the head of the operations center, predicted a steady increase in infections among schoolchildren, expected to climax in two or three weeks. Avramopoulos said that the first phase of vaccination of vulnerable social groups is scheduled to begin in around three weeks’ time.