Swine flu hits Ukrainian election campaign


Ukraine has banned public meetings, including election rallies, for a three-week period after confirming its first death from swine flu.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko announced the measures, saying the H1N1 virus had reached epidemic levels in three parts of western Ukraine, where there has been an outbreak of respiratory illness since mid-October. 

The epidemic coincides with the start of campaigning for a presidential election on 17 January. Tymoshenko, herself a front-runner, said the emergency would affect campaign rallies. 

“All our pre-election events have been cancelled. They will not be held until the situation has stabilised,” she said in a televised statement. All “unnecessary travel” will also be stopped. 

President Viktor Yushchenko, a bitter rival of Tymoshenko’s, himself called off a public meeting in Kiev where he had been due to roll out his election programme. 

The government allotted 500 million hryvnias (€43 million) to providing medical supplies to fight the virus, agencies said. Yushchenko said Ukraine, which is already suffering from the effects of a severe economic downturn, would turn to international institutions and foreign partners for help if the situation developed beyond the country’s capacity to handle it. 

Schools in Ukraine are to take a three-week holiday and authorities are considering how the new restrictions could affect two international football fixtures scheduled for November. 

Ukraine is scheduled to host a UEFA Champions’ League soccer clash between Dynamo Kiev and Inter Milan on 4 November and a World Cup qualifying play-off between Ukraine and Greece on 18 November. 

Meanwhile, several EU member states have been stepping up their response to the pandemic as the number of cases has increased dramatically in recent weeks. 

A similar picture is emerging on Europe’s borders, where Turkey has begun H1N1 vaccinations as the death toll from swine flu rises to seven. Deaths have also been reported in Russia, Belarus and Croatia, while schools have been closed in Serbia. 

(EURACTIV with Reuters.) 

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