The likelihood of swine flu spreading to China is very high, a senior health official said Thursday, as millions of people prepare to travel around the country for a long-weekend public holiday.
"It is very hard for me to predict exactly when the first case of swine flu will appear in China," said Yang Weizhong, deputy director of China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, in comments broadcast on state television.
"But I can say that the risk of swine flu spreading to China is very high."
His comments came after authorities urged extra caution as millions of holiday-makers prepared to travel outside and within China for the Labour Day long weekend starting Friday.
Swine flu is believed to have killed 84 people in Mexico, where the virus emerged, and one person in the United States, although no cases have been reported in China.
The virus has swept across the globe with cases reported in nations including New Zealand, Britain, Israel and Peru, and the World Health Organisation has raised its flu alert to phase five, signalling a pandemic is imminent.
National Tourism Administration said on Wednesday the travel industry should prepare for a potential epidemic during the holiday as people who had just come back from affected areas could travel to many places in China.
"Travel agencies, hotels, scenic spots, tour buses and boats... must strengthen epidemic prevention and control measures, and make preparations to deal with a possible epidemic," the NTA said on its website.
The head of the health department in southern China's Guangdong province also said the probability of human cases of swine flu in the area during the May 1 holiday was "very high," the Southern Daily newspaper reported Thursday.
"During the May 1 holiday, there will be a frequent flow of people, so the possibility of human cases of swine flu is very high, and one must be highly vigilant," the report quoted Yao Zhibin as saying.
Feng Shaomin, the head of the foreign affairs section of the Guangdong health department, confirmed Yao's comments.
"We have adopted a number of measures, and have urged tourists to avoid crowded places," he told AFP.
Feng said the provincial government had stored 10,000 doses of Tamiflu, one of the drugs given to those suffering from swine flu, and had asked drug factories to be on stand-by for further production of the medicine.