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Thu 17 Sep 2009 12:44 AM

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Egypt orders foreign schools closed over swine flu - ministry

Schools, universities to close until Oct 3; local schools already told not to open until then.

Egypt has ordered foreign schools and universities to close until October 3 over worries about swine flu, with local schools having already been told to delay opening until then, a health ministry official said on Wednesday.Egyptian universities and schools had been set to begin their academic year the last week of September, but foreign ones started earlier this month. The government decided to delay the school year last week, the official said.

American University of Cairo vice president Brian MacDougall said the university was asked on Tuesday to delay classes, which the university began on September 6.

An official at the French embassy confirmed that it has been told all French schools in the country must close until next month.

A Western diplomatic official said the decision affected US, British, French and Italian schools, as well as others.

A spokesman for the state-funded University of Cairo said classes in the university had been scheduled to start on September 26.

He said that that the school week will be extended to six days after the courses start because the university will reduce class sizes as part of measures to protect against the spread of the disease.

A medical team will be present in every department, he said.

Two people have died of the disease in Egypt so far and 886 have been infected.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country with a population of 88 million, has taken several measures to curb swine flu, including killing the country's estimated 200,000 pigs after the disease surfaced in other countries.

It has also restricted visas for pilgrims going to Islamic holy sites to those between the ages of 25 and 65.

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

While the UN health agency would not issue definitive guidance on whether or not school closures should be implemented, it said the measure could cut health care demand by up to 50 percent at the peak of the pandemic.

More than 3,000 people have died from the A(H1N1) virus since it first appeared in April and rapidly spread around the world.

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