KIEV — 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.
"From today, all the school establishments in Ukraine -- be they private or public -- will be put on three weeks of holiday," she told her cabinet in comments carried on Ukrainian television.
Tymoshenko said the government would also be banning "all public gatherings, every concert and every cinema showing for three weeks."
The government will also introduce "special regimes" to limit the movement of Ukraine's citizens from one region to another for non-urgent purposes, she said. Ukraine has borders with four EU countries.
The prime minister's tough actions came as Ukraine confirmed its first deaths from the A(H1N1) virus, amid a growing panic over several dozen unexplained deaths in the west of the country.
Four people in Ukraine are now confirmed to have died from the virus, the secretary of the country's national security council Raisa Bogatyriova said, according to the Ukrainian presidency.
In the Ternopil region alone in western Ukraine, 30 people have died of unexplained causes in the last days, health ministry spokeswoman Lyudmila Gordon told reporters.
Tymoshenko also threatened to revoke the licenses of pharmacies that failed to stock the appropriate level of anti-flu medicine and masks.
"We can say today that Ukraine has entered into the zone of the swine flu epidemic," Health Minister Vassyl Kniazevich said.
AFP correspondents in Kiev and the western city of Lviv said there had been long queues outside pharmacies in the past days as the population stocked up on anti-flu masks.
Many students whose courses were cancelled in Lviv and Ternopil left the cities, while those who remained were frequently seen wearing masks in public places.
Lemons, a traditional anti-flu remedy, sold out at markets in Lviv while supermarkets were selling them at double price.
There is currently only enough anti-flu medication in Lviv to last three to four days but central authorities have promised to make additional deliveries, said Lviv governor Mykola Kmit.
Tymoshenko will travel to the affected western Ternopil region later Friday to visit the "epicentre" of the epidemic, a government statement said.
The country's politicians, including Tymoshenko, have just started official campaigning for presidential elections scheduled for January 17.
The prime minister on Saturday held a mass outdoor rally in the centre of Kiev attended by tens of thousands of people to mark her party's confirmation of her candidacy in the presidential race.
President Viktor Yushchenko, Tymoshenko's political arch-rival who is also standing in the elections, was due to hold his own rally on Sunday but it is now unclear whether this can go ahead.
Residents of Kiev meanwhile were asking pharmacies for masks and medication but these were not always to be found in stock.
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