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Australian churches, top schools fight swine flu

world Updated: Jun 16, 2009 12:01 IST

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Australian churches and exclusive private schools battled swine flu on Tuesday as the virus spread, prompting warnings the pandemic could hit millions here and trigger a new economic crisis.

As the national caseload rose to 1,853, Catholic priests slapped a ban on communion wine in Adelaide and the top Westminster School announced a new case among its pupils.

Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson said communion wine, administered in a shared chalice, would be banned until further notice.

"Based on the latest information available from health authorities, I have decided to take this action to limit the risk of cross-infection during the current situation," Wilson said.

Adelaide's Westminster boarding school, where hundreds of pupils and staff are under quarantine, said a 16-year-old girl had become its third swine flu case and was in isolation at home.

But Sydney's prestigious Kings School, which cancelled classes and isolated 60 pupils after a swine flu scare, said all pupils had been cleared. More than a dozen schools have been closed after students tested positive to A(H1N1).

Meanwhile, South Australian Democrat MP David Winderlich warned predictions that up to 30 per cent of the population - or 6.3 million people - could catch the disease would have a devastating impact on the economy.

"If we keep following the quarantine model there will be massive closures of offices, shops and schools and people will be reluctant to travel on public transport," Winderlich said.

"This could do as much economic damage as the global financial crisis."

The Australian government is considering lifting its pandemic alert level from "contain" to "sustain" as cases continue to climb and after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the first pandemic in 40 years.

The move would bring the entire country in line with hotspot state Victoria, which has recorded two-thirds of Australia's cases and raised its swine flu level earlier this month.

The "sustain" phase, Australia's second-highest, gives authorities the power to cancel sports events, close schools and restrict travel, although officials say extreme measures such as closing national borders are unlikely.

Australia is the worst-affected Asia-Pacific country, with three victims in intensive care. Other cases include top rugby league players and a member of the national under-21 lacrosse team.