AHMEDABAD, India — A west Indian city has banned large public gatherings in an attempt to halt the spread of swine flu, which has claimed at least 926 lives nationwide in 11 weeks.
Officials prohibited gatherings of five or more people in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat state, starting Wednesday. Marriages and funerals are exempt from the ban, but participants will need to wear protective masks, officials said.
The law invoked for the ban is generally used to maintain law and order, not health, and officials said they would be flexible in interpreting which public events would be prohibited.
Gujarat has had the second-highest number of deaths, with 231, after the northwestern state of Rajasthan, where 234 have died.
Among the thousands in Gujarat testing positive for H1N1, the virus which causes swine flu, were its assembly speaker and state health minister.
Doctors said the death toll was high because many patients delayed going to hospitals.
The Health Ministry said most of the more than 16,000 cases reported nationwide since mid-December were in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh.
Federal Health Minister J.P. Nadda urged people not to panic, saying there was enough medicine to cope with the rising number of cases.
The ministry has instructed states to set up isolation wards and is providing free flu tests at some government hospitals.