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Afghanistan Declares H1N1 Emergency, Shuts Schools

A youth wearing a mask walks in crowded downtown Kabul.
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghanistan has declared a health emergency to help the government prevent the rapid spread of H1N1, and ordered schools closed for three weeks as part of measures against the deadly virus.

The government has also advised the public against gatherings such as weddings in enclosed areas, after Afghanistan had its first death attributed to the virus last week.

Nearly 350 positive cases of H1N1 have been detected among foreigners and Afghans and several hundred more people are suspected to be infected, a Public Health Ministry spokesman said.

The positive cases, 271 reported among expatriates and the rest among Afghans, reflect a dramatic rise in infections registered in recent months, Farid Raaid told Reuters.

"We have declared a health emergency state on the basis of which all private [and] governmental educational institutions as well as kindergartens have been ordered to close for three weeks," he said.

An evaluation will be made after two weeks to determine whether to reopen those institutions, he added.

The announcement of the health emergency comes amid uncertainty as to whether the country will hold a runoff presidential election on November 7 and if so how authorities planned to prevent the spread of the virus that day.

The government has waged a massive public awareness campaign in the country, battered by decades of war and where illiteracy is high.

The UN World Health Organisation has pledged to provide 1 million doses of vaccine to Afghans to tackle the disease, Raaid said.