SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia upped its pandemic threat level, invoking sweeping powers allowing for the closure of schools, public places and major events as the number of confirmed swine flu cases reached 12.
A 10-year-old girl became the country’s first case of human-to-human transmission after contracting the disease from a classmate who fell ill upon returning from a family holiday to the United States.
Two teenagers, one in Melbourne and another in Adelaide, were also diagnosed with the virus without having travelled overseas or come into contact with an identified case, prompting Canberra to escalate its pandemic management plan.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the shift to the “containment” phase gave the government greater scope to try to control the spread of the disease.
“It provides us with flexibility for social distancing measures such as school closures, which we have already seen in South Australia and Victoria,” Roxon said.
“The contained phase is not the top phase. There are three more levels after that,” she added.
The alert level was raised following a meeting of the Australian Public Health Committee, and came as five new cases of the virus were confirmed, including the 10-year-old.
Australia’s chief medical officer Jim Bishop said it was vital the outbreak was brought under control before the country entered the southern hemisphere winter, traditionally flu season.
More than 11,000 cases and 85 deaths have been recorded since the outbreak of A(H1N1) influenza emerged in Mexico and the United States a month ago, and the world remains at flu alert level five, signalling an “imminent pandemic.”