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Tories urge province to plan for flu-related school closures

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WINNIPEG - The Conservative opposition says it is frustrated that the province won’t provide clear guidelines on school closures should there be a serious outbreak of H1N1 this fall.

Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen said Tuesday the Doer government should be specific about what situation would trigger school closures so that parents receive as much notice as possible and are able to make child-care arrangements for their kids.

"Plans prevent panic. (Government) vagueness is what causes people to feel anxiety," McFadyen said after question period, during which opposition MLAs prodded the government on its H1N1 preparedness.

McFadyen asked the premier whether the province would adhere to guidelines set out earlier this month by the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding school closures.

Doer noted that the WHO directive said issues regarding school closures during a pandemic "are complex and highly context specific," so the province would rely on the advice of public health experts in the matter.

The premier said the government will maintain its current stance on school closures unless there is a "significant change" in the way the virus is behaving in Canada.

"The benefits of keeping schools open in Canada currently outweigh the risk of transmission in these settings," he said, adding that kids who show flu symptoms should stay home.

On Thursday, the potential for an H1N1 pandemic will be the prime topic for discussion as Canada’s health ministers gather in Winnipeg for their annual meeting.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald said Tuesday the provinces will look to the federal government to provide emergency financial assistance in the case of a severe H1N1 pandemic — much as it does in the case of disastrous floods.

The ministers will also discuss the global shortage of medical isotopes and other issues at their two-day meeting, she said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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