Moscow and two other cities shut their schools down for a week Saturday in an attempt to stop the worst flu outbreak to hit central Russia in over a decade.
The Moscow education department’s order covered over 1,500 public and private elementary schools.
Education officials said that this meant about 500,000 children would get an unscheduled week-long vacation in the first shutdown to strike the Russian capital since 1998.
“Even today, some classes are already missing half their students,” an official with Moscow’s health control service told the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.
“The situation in Moscow is relatively favorable compared to what it is in the other regions” of central Russia, Alexander Gavrilov said.
The kindergarten schools would remain open and older children would not be affected. However, officials have issued instruction for parents to take extra care of their younger children and have them avoid spending too much in public places
“Children should avoid gathering in large groups if they can be avoided,” Russia’s chief sanitary doctor Gennady Onishchenko told Interfax.
He also recommended that Moscow adopt “long-distance Internet learning” while schools are shut down.
The instructions were issued after schools reported empty classrooms due to the flu outbreak.
“A lot of our students our out. So it just made sense to close the schools instead of teaching three or four kids and then having everyone else catch up,” one Moscow school director told the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.
Some education officials complained that Moscow schools were ill equipped to fight these outbreaks and that there was a general shortage of doctors on staff.
However, the city defended itself against this criticism and said outbreaks occasionally happen no matter what.
“We have vaccinated an entire 30 percent (of the Moscow population) against the regular flu,” the Kommersant business daily quoted the city’s chief sanitary official as saying.
“We are working — but we can provide no guarantees,” Nikolai Filatov said.
Officials said almost 92,000 Muscovites are currently inflicted with the flu. Over 52,000 of them are children.
Officials said about 300 schools had already closed their doors across Russia by Friday evening.
New reports said that similar week-long closures had taken place in the industrial Ural city of Chelyabinsk and Russia’s northern Far East town of Yakutsk.
The outbreak was accompanied by new reports of the swine flu spreading through Moscow and other major cities.
There were 93 H1N1 infections, but no deaths were reported in Moscow.