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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong authorities, grappling with a seasonal flu outbreak, have decided to shut all kindergartens and primary schools from Thursday, days ahead of scheduled Lunar New Year holidays, to rein in spread of the disease.
By Monday, seasonal flu had killed 121 people, two children among them, since the start of the year, said the Department of Health, which recorded 224 severe cases over the period.
The numbers of deaths and severe cases in the first three weeks of the current season exceed those of the past three major seasons, statistics from the Centre for Health Protection show.
"We want to break the chain of infection ... This is just a short-term policy," Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Wednesday, according to a government statement.
Schools had previously been set to shut on different days next week for the Lunar New Year holidays, which run from next Friday to the following Monday.
Some of those working in education said the government should have given notice earlier.
"We understand that the situation is very acute and is all of a sudden...but at the same time, we should try to avoid chaos, or even creating a panic situation," said Ip Kin-yuen, a legislator representing the education sector, in comments carried by the government-funded RTHK.
Public hospitals have added beds to tackle an occupancy rate that has risen to 112 percent, with the Hospital Authority's latest statistics showing more than 1,000 people admitted on Monday to public hospitals across the territory.
(Reporting by Venus WuEditing by Clarence Fernandez)