Lhasa Fears Swine Flu

The Tibetan region reports its first death from the H1N1 virus, and residents fear more deaths to come.
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Chinese military trucks sit at the base of the Potala Palace in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, March 21, 2008.
Chinese military trucks sit at the base of the Potala Palace in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, March 21, 2008.

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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