China's health minister said on Tuesday the swine flu situation in the world's most populous nation was "grim," as the number of cases surged rapidly at the start of the school year, with winter on the way.
The minister, Chen Zhu, told reporters that Beijing would launch its nationwide vaccination programme this week, but warned that supply would likely fall far short of demand.
"There are recent developments in A(H1N1) flu and we are faced with a grim situation," Chen Zhu told reporters. He said there had been a sudden surge in cases, emphasising that in the past week, 95 per cent of new infections were domestic and not imported from abroad.
There had also been a fast rise in cluster outbreaks, Chen said, with the start of the new academic year bringing students together in close proximity.
China has so far reported 5,592 cases of A(H1N1) flu but no deaths. One patient in Shanghai and another in the neighbouring eastern province of Zhejiang were in serious condition after contracting the disease, Chen said.
But Chen said the condition of the Shanghai patient was "stabilised and there are already signs of improvement". The man in Zhejiang was also stable.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that at least 2,837 people had died from A(H1N1) flu globally.
Authorities are particularly concerned there will be a second wave of the pandemic with the onset of the autumn and winter flu season in the northern hemisphere.
Chen said an additional worry was the upcoming week-long October national holiday, with huge celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of communist China and 200 million people expected to travel around the country.
"China will be facing a grim situation in the prevention and control of the A(H1N1) flu," he said.
The government plans to vaccinate 65 million people, or five percent of the total population, before year's end.
But Chen warned the productivity of Chinese vaccine companies was limited.
"The supply will fall far short of demand if compared to the demand of 1.3 billion people," he said.