OCTOBER 31 2009 15:49h

Ukrainians empty pharmacies in swine flu panic

A woman and her children wear masks as they walk in the centre of western Ukrainian city of Lviv on October 30, 2009.  Ukraine has suffered its first confirmed death from the swine flu virus, the health ministry announced Friday, amid a growing panic over several dozen unexplained deaths in the west of the country




In Lviv in the western region, some pharmacies ran out of flu medicines and masks on Saturday after worried customers made bulk purchases.

Ukraine residents emptied pharmacies of masks and flu medicines on Saturday after the government ordered a three-week closure of schools and cinemas to combat swine flu.

In Lviv in the western region, some pharmacies ran out of flu medicines and masks on Saturday after worried customers made bulk purchases.

Residents complained pharmacies were profiting from the panic.AFP-.--.-A picture taken on October 28, 2009 shows a nurse preparing a A(H1N1) vaccine ( Pandemrix from Glaxo Smith Kline -GSK- laboratory) at the Pellegrin hospital in Bordeaux, southwestern France. Switzerland on October 30, 2009 restricted the use of British drugs group GlaxoSmithKline's swine flu vaccine Pandemrix, excluding pregnant women, minors and people over the age of 60. The regulatory authority Swissmedic said it has received data on the vaccine for adults, but not for pregnant women and very little data for children.

"Look at the lines there, how much medicine they've sold and how much they've put prices," said pensioner Maria Teodorovich. "People are buying up everything they see."

In Kiev, residents said flu medicines were hard to find.

"I've been to so many pharmacies and can't find medicines anywhere. And flu is on its way," said pensioner Yelena Mikhailova, covering her face with a paper tissue.

Ukraine has 13 confirmed cases of swine flu and four people have died, the country's chief sanitary doctor, Olexander Bilovol, said in televised comments on Saturday.

President Viktor Yushchenko gave far higher figures for overall flu infections Saturday, saying that 48 people had died and more than 150,000 people have been infected, the Interfax news agency reported.

In the country's western region, there have been 36 deaths from a type of pneumonia, Bilovol said. It has not been officially confirmed whether the deaths were linked to swine flu.

On Saturday, the medical chief of the armed forces, Pyotr Melnik, announced that military conscription will be halted for two or three weeks because of swine flu, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Friday ordered a three-week closure of Ukraine's schools and cinemas in the toughest measures adopted yet to combat the swine flu virus in Europe.

In Lviv, public service workers such as trolleybus and tram drivers donned masks, as did many young people, although some didn't take the panic seriously.

"I'm wearing a mask more for fun. All my classmates are wearing them, so I am too," said Andrei Kvas, a 20-year-old student, whose university had stopped classes because of the epidemic.