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Schools close as virus spreads

CHINA

PUBLIC schools in Beijing have been closed for two weeks, affecting 1.7 million pupils, it was announced on Wednesday, as people trying to flee the Sars outbreak crowded into the Chinese capital's train station.

The Health Ministry announced nine more deaths - seven of them in Beijing - raising mainland China's death toll from severe acute respiratory syndrome to 106.

An official from the Beijing Municipal Education Commission said tests for primary, junior high and high school students were postponed indefinitely.

Beijing newspapers said it was meant to prevent the spread of Sars, which has killed at least 35 people in the Chinese capital.

The Beijing Morning News said students with internet access would receive lessons at home, and teachers would be required to come to work to supervise their studies.

At Beijing train station, thousands of people in white gauze masks waited for trains. They included workers and students from other parts of China who said they were heading home because of the capital's Sars outbreak.

A 17-year-old student from the eastern city of Hangzhou said her boarding school in Beijing had closed on Monday. "We're really afraid to ride this train to go home," said the girl, who would give only her surname, Shi. "We just don't know how dangerous this Sars is."

In Hangzhou, community programmes in school facilities have been called off and school playgrounds and sports fields closed to outsiders, newspapers reported.

Schools have been ordered to step up work on disinfecting their facilities and teaching students hygiene.

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