Schools in the capital reopened on Sunday after a health alert issued in response to a seasonal outbreak of the flu and viral fever was cancelled last week.
After reopening last week, the government was forced to close all schools in Malé and some islands affected by the H1N1 strain of influenza after most parents kept their children at home.
Attendance was as low as 10 to 20 percent in some schools.
With parents sceptical of the authorities’ claim that the outbreak was under control as the H1N1 death toll rose to six, the Health Protection Agency assured in a statement on Thursday that the public health situation is now back to normal.
The heightened public health emergency alert level that prompted the formation of a task force and increased surveillance and testing has been cancelled, the HPA said.
“Since the spread of the flu has gotten better, we would like to inform parents that it is safe to send your children to school,” the statement read.
Schools were first closed on March 11, three days before a week-long midterm break, after the H1N1 “swine flu” virus was found to be spreading rapidly.
The education ministry decided to open schools after the week-long holiday. But a leaked document showing that an advisory committee had recommended keeping schools closed until April 2 triggered confusion and panic with parents taking to social media declaring that their children would be kept home.
A Ghiyasuddin School official told the Maldives Independent last week that only twenty students had turned up. Only a handful of students also turned up at other schools in the capital.
However, attendance was reportedly back to normal when schools reopened on Sunday.
The two tertiary hospitals in Malé have also closed makeshift flu clinics set up in mid-March. Ahmed Mausoom, spokesman at the government-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, said the number of flu consultations has returned to normal.
Daily consultations at the 24-hour flu clinic fell to 38 on Friday after reaching a peak of 542 consultations in mid-March.
The ADK private hospital also closed its special flu clinic on March 23. The hospital said flu consultations were down to 50 on Friday from above 300 two weeks ago.
On Wednesday, Dr Arvind Mathur, the World Health Organisation’s representative to the Maldives, observed in a statement that number of new flu cases and those with severe acute respiratory infections requiring hospital admission have been declining.
But he recommended continued efforts “to prevent, detect early and ensure appropriate treatment, to further minimise the impact of seasonal flu, which predominantly includes influenza A H1N1.”
The health ministry has been taking measures for early detection and treatment of flu with the help of the WHO, he noted, such as good infection control measures in health facilities and raising public awareness.
“The government is offering flu vaccine to the most vulnerable population – pregnant women, the elderly, people who have undergone organ transplant or other serious surgeries, those with compromised immunity, chronic ailment, health workers and children between six months to six-years-old,” the statement noted.
“This is helping in protecting the most vulnerable people. The unfortunate deaths due to flu, reported recently, were of people who contracted flu earlier in the month, especially in the week of March 13 when the seasonal flu cases had peaked.”
In addition to procuring 30,000 courses of the influenza vaccine, the WHO is also providing rapid test kits for timely detection of cases, and flu medicine – Oseltamivir – to treat people with severe infection.
“Early detection, appropriate treatment, and good infection control measures in health care settings remains important. Adoption of simple preventive measures by the public, and awareness about and among the at-risk population to seek timely medical care, in order to minimise the impact of seasonal flu are important,” the WHO advised.
About 3,000 flu and viral fever cases a week were previously reported across the Maldives, but the number of cases rose to about 5,000 a week on average in late February.
According to the latest statistics from the HPA, 222 people have tested positive for H1N1 out of 619 suspected cases as of last Tuesday. Some 20 people were also hospitalised as of Tuesday last week.
The HPA stopped releasing daily updates after Wednesday.
The HPA previously explained that since the 2009 pandemic when it was a new strain, the H1N1 “swine flu” virus is now “similar to any other influenza and not any more severe or dangerous.”
Most people who are infected recover in less than two weeks, but children under five years of age, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with chronic conditions such as lung or heart diseases are at risk of developing life-threatening complications like pneumonia.