Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Thursday, 17 September 2009 12:02 UK

Egypt closes schools to curb flu

Pigs bred in Zaraib, Cairo (Photo: Muslim Qandeel/BBC)
The government ordered the culling of the country's pig population

The Egyptian government has ordered all schools and universities to close until October in an attempt to slow the spread of swine flu.

State-run schools were due to start the academic year in the last week of September. Foreign schools that have already started will also be affected.

The Ministry of Health announced on Sunday that five new cases of swine flu had been detected.

It is the latest strategy enacted by the government to combat the virus.

Restrictions have already been imposed on those wanting to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage in November. Only those between the ages of 25 and 65 will be granted the necessary visas.

Egyptian Health Minister Hatem al-Gabaly refused to rule out an all-out ban on Hajj travel if the outlook becomes worse. A similar ban was last imposed in 1947 due to a cholera epidemic.

When swine flu first appeared globally, Egypt began a policy of culling its entire pig population in a move that angered the largely Coptic Christian pig farmers.

The World Health Organisation said last week that school closures appeared to be the most effective way of preventing the spread of the virus if implemented early in the outbreak.

The UN health agency said the measure could cut health care demand by up to 50% at the peak of the pandemic.

There have been nearly 900 confirmed cases and two deaths in Egypt from swine flu.

Globally more than 3,000 have died since the virus first appeared in April 2009.

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