World Cup 2010: Swine Flu Threat In Mind

There may be no worries on the security front, but health may well be a cause for concern at the finals.
South Africa faces a possible health crisis if a swine flu outbreak strikes during the World Cup later this year, health minister Aaron Motsoaledi told parliament on Monday.

The minister was addressing his fellow politicians yesterday and admitted that the virus could be a problem if precautions are not taken.

"One of our biggest nightmares is the fact that 2010 is going to be held in June, when there is a possibility of another bout of H1N1," Motsoaledi said, according to Reuters.

The month-long tournament, hosted in Africa for the first time, is expected to attract between 450,000 and 500,000 people to South Africa, and due to the fact that the country is in the southern hemisphere, the competition will take place in the winter time.

Motsoaledi said the department of health had managed to acquire 1.3 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine and another 3.5m doses are promised from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"We received a letter from the WHO saying that they are going to donate to South Africa 3.5m doses of the H1N1 vaccine, which will arrive in this country by March," he said, adding that the WHO donation saved South Africa about 250m rand ($32.48m).

The WHO, which declared swine flu a pandemic in June last year, has been in discussions with South African government officials on how to reduce the risk of the influenza spreading at the much-anticipated tournament.

The H1N1 virus has spread globally and killed 15,000 people since first appearing in early 2009, according to the World Health Organisation, although many more unreported deaths due to the virus are likely to have occurred.

Pregnant women and people with health problems such as diabetes are the most at risk. "We are going to be vaccinating...starting with pregnant women, people at entry points, people who are involved in sports administration," said Motsoaledi. He said vaccinations would start soon.

There were fears concerning the spread of the virus during the FIFA Confederations Cup held in four South African cities last year due to travelling teams and fans, but the virus was kept under control and few cases were reported during the event.