Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Tuesday, 8 September 2009 14:28 UK

Swine flu spread in China 'grim'

Chinese children have their temperature taken
China has stepped up public health warnings as children return to school

China's health minister says the nation is facing a grim situation as it tries to contain a rapid surge in swine flu.

Chen Zhu said a vaccination programme would start this week, prioritising those taking part in events to celebrate National Day on 1 October.

Children will also be treated as a priority, because outbreaks of flu have accelerated since schools reopened.

China is the first country in the world to use swine flu vaccines, after conducting successful clinical trials.

Important event

Mr Chen says priority will be given to young students aged between five and 19, vulnerable groups such as those with respiratory diseases and pregnant women, and front-line public service personnel.

But he also revealed that the vaccination programme would start with those performing in the National Day Parade.

There are at least 200,000 official participants, plus thousands of security police.

According to the BBC's China analyst, Shirong Chen, they have been pushed to the front of the queue not just because it is a huge public event that carries national pride, but because all the top leaders and dignitaries will be in Beijing.

The authorities cannot afford the political risk of any infection there, our correspondent says.

So there will not be much vaccine left for others on the priority list for now.

In the past week, 95% of the swine flu cases have been locally transmitted, and Chinese experts say infections are expected to ramp up.

About 6,000 people have fallen ill in China with swine flu.

In Hong Kong, 12 people have died.

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