British Flu Death is First Fatality Outside Americas
Authorities were on Monday appealing for calm after Britain confirmed the first swine flu death outside the Americas and the pandemic spread to isolated island communities in Asia.
Three days after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, the Scottish government announced late on Sunday that an infected patient who also had "underlying health conditions" had died in hospital.
It was the first death in a patient with the A(H1N1) virus outside the Americas since the first cases were reported in Mexico two month ago.
Canadian health authorities have since confirmed their sixth swine flu death, a woman in her fifties who had also suffered from "a chronic disease."
The Scottish patient was among 10 people hospitalized with the virus, out of 498 confirmed cases in Scotland and 1,261 in total across Britain.
British officials would not confirm the victim's identity, but media reports said she was a 38-year-old woman, who gave birth some three months prematurely about a fortnight ago. The baby is understood not to have swine flu.
Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon offered her condolences to the patient's family and sought to alleviate public concern.
"Tragic though today's death is, I would like to emphasize that the vast majority of those who have H1N1 are suffering from relatively mild symptoms," she said, adding: "The risk to the general public remains low."
In London, the Department of Health said it was monitoring the situation "very closely".
The WHO raised its global alert to a maximum six on Thursday, saying swine flu had reached pandemic status because of its geographical spread.
The virus, which was first detected in Mexico in April, has so far infected almost 30,000 people in 74 countries, according to the latest WHO figures. Around 150 of those have died.
The geographic spread was highlighted on Monday when the Solomon Islands, a remote archipelago in the South Pacific, reported its first suspected case.
A man who had been studying in Australia and returned home last week for a holiday was experiencing flu-like symptoms, said James Auto of the country's swine flu taskforce.
The man has been placed in isolation in a hospital in the capital, Honiara.
But Auto warned against panic, after rumors of an outbreak saw some patients flee the hospital in Honiara at the weekend.
In Australia, the government said it was ready to ratchet up its swine flu alert as the national tally hit 1,458 cases. It is the worst-hit Asia-Pacific country with the fifth highest number of cases worldwide.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the whole country would soon move to the "sustain" phase in line with hotspot state Victoria.
This phase, Australia's second-highest, gives authorities the power to cancel sports events, close schools and restrict travel, although officials say extreme measures such as closing national borders are unlikely.
In the Philippines, authorities reported the country's first cluster of domestic swine flu cases after a group of primary school students were infected in a remote northern village on Luzon island.
Eric Tayag, chief of the National Epidemiology Center, said the "community level outbreak" was declared after 11 children in the village of Hilera were confirmed to have contracted the influenza A(H1N1) virus.
Saudi Arabia meanwhile reported three new cases of swine flu, taking to 12 the number of infections since the virus appeared in the kingdom 11 days ago.
Junior health minister Khalid al-Zahrani said the ministry was taking action to guard against the pandemic's spread during pilgrimages to Muslim holy sites but would not restrict entry to pilgrims because of the threat.
Meanwhile, Thai health authorities said they would step up the monitoring of workplaces and schools after the number of cases soared twelvefold in less than a week.
The health ministry confirmed a further 51 cases of the A(H1N1) virus overnight, taking the number in the kingdom to 201.
"People should not panic," said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. "The death ratio for the new flu is probably lower than normal flu."