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Obama urges caution on swine flu

Obama: 'The virus may not have been as virulent as we at first feared'

President Barack Obama has warned that the US is not "out of the woods yet" in containing a swine flu outbreak.

He said the virus was not as virulent as first feared, but warned of the possibility of "an even worse flu season sometime in the fall [autumn]".

Earlier, officials said the number of confirmed infections in the US had nearly doubled overnight to 1,639.

Meanwhile, Canada reported its first confirmed flu death in the western Alberta province.

The province's chief medical officer said the victim was a woman in her thirties.

In Hong Kong, nearly 300 people were released from a hotel after a week-long quarantine over a feared flu outbreak.

The guests and staff were all given health checks before leaving the Metropark Hotel. The unidentified Mexican man who had the virus and triggered the quarantine was also released from a Hong Kong hospital

Meanwhile, Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova raised the country's flu death toll by one to 45, but said the latest fatality was not a new infection.

Mr Cordova also said the number of confirmed cases across the country rose by 159 to 1,319, but he said that the virus was on the wane.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has so far confirmed 44 swine flu fatalities - 42 in Mexico and two in the US.

The WHO said it was not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak of swine flu.

Rising numbers

"I want to assure everybody that we're seeing that the virus may not have been as virulent as at first feared but we're not out of the woods yet," Mr Obama said in Washington.

We have been successful in our effort to prevent the spread of the virus, but this doesn't mean that we can relax our guard
York Chow
Hong Kong Health Secretary

"We still have to take precautions."

The US president also paid tribute to efforts by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to track the spread of the virus.

He said CDC experts believed there could be a more virulent outbreak later in the year.

CDC spokesman Dave Daigle said earlier that the number of the confirmed US cases had risen to 1,639 from 896 on Thursday, according to the AFP news agency.

He said the cases had been registered in 43 states, adding that he expected to find confirmed cases in all 50 US states because there were now more testing facilities available.

However, Mr Daigle stressed the CDC believed the epidemic was not speeding up.

'Breathe easily'

In Hong Kong , hotel guests and staff cheered and waved as they were allowed to leave the Metropark Hotel.

Media outside the Metropark hotel
Guests at the Metropark Hotel were isolated for a week

"I'm happy! I love Hong Kong people!" a South Korean businessman, who did not give his name, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Hong Kong's Health Secretary York Chow said: "I am sure everyone feels... that Hong Kong has passed its first test and we can breathe more easily."

"We have been successful in our effort to prevent the spread of the virus, but this doesn't mean that we can relax our guard," he added.

Authorities have offered guests of the city centre hotel two nights' free accommodation at another of Hong Kong's luxury hotels to compensate for the inconvenience.

Although critics called the quarantine an over-reaction, officials were keen to avoid a repeat of the 2003 Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic.

That outbreak killed 300 people in Hong Kong and 800 worldwide after a single carrier spread the disease in a city hotel.



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