KOBE (Japan) – OFFICIALS in western Japan urged millions of people in two of the country’s largest cities to remain calm but take precautions to keep an outbreak of swine influenza that has already affected nearly 200 people from spreading further.Officials have closed down more than 4,000 schools, from kindergartens to universities, and set up ‘fever stations’ outside of hospitals to deal with patients who think they might have contracted the new flu strain.

The new wave of confirmed cases has prompted Japan to shift its focus away from airports and spread measures out more broadly across the country.

Warnings are also being broadcast in train stations and other public areas informing residents of the outbreak and advising them to seek help if they are suffering from fever or other symptoms.

But officials also urged calm because the symptoms of the virus appear to be no greater than that of the seasonal flu. Concerns are growing that an overreaction might flood hospitals with only mildly sick patients and unnecessarily harm businesses.

Turning the city into a sea of surgical masks, thousands of worried residents made runs on drug stores. The government has endorsed the masks as a means of slowing the virus’ spread, and most people on the streets are wearing them.

‘It’s better than nothing,’ said Kokichi Okino, a 68-year-old retiree. ‘I don’t know if they really work, but every day the virus is spreading and that’s scary.’