The H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu, continued to ravage Hong Kong as 54 new cases were reported on Wednesday, up an astonishing 46% over a 24-hour period.

The growth rate has been going straight up within the week, with 8 new cases reported on Monday, 14 on Tuesday and 54 on Wednesday.

The Centre for Health Protection has confirmed the new cases, bringing the total tally to 172. Of them, 41 were local cases and 13 imported, involving 32 women and 22 men aged three to 55.

So far, all patients have only mild illness and have not required intensive care nor developed serious complications.

Of the cases concerning schools, 26 secondary students of different grades and one parent are from Australian International School Hong Kong in Kowloon Tong, a 10-year-old girl from Holy Family Canossian School in the same district, and a three-year-old boy from Kowloon City's Pooi To Primary School's kindergarten division.

School’s like the Evangelise China Fellowship Saint and Canaan College will suspend classes from tomorrow for two weeks.

Centre Controller Thomas Tsang said while 80% of the day's cases are local ones, the trend is within expectations. He forecasts the number of local cases will rise, including cases at schools and institutions.

He noted as Hong Kong has clearly entered the pandemic mitigation phase, measures like flight contact tracing and isolation have turned to ineffective and will stop. The focus will shift to curing the disease.

The Hospital Authority (HA) announced on Wednesday a new set of triage and clinical management guidelines for patients with influenza-like infection under the progressive mitigation phase of the human swine flu pandemic.

The new arrangements, to be effective from June 18, would enable public hospitals to reserve their isolation capacity for confirmed cases and patients with more clinical severe condition.

“In the last few days, isolation facilities in public hospitals have started to face a pressing demand to admit the rapidly increasing local cases and an even larger number of their symptomatic close contacts,” said Dr. Leung Pak-yin, Director of HA. “Starting from tomorrow, only those confirmed patients and those with severe clinical conditions will be admitted to the hospitals,” the director noted.

Secretary for Food & Health Dr. York Chow said on Wednesday the timetable of the second-stage public consultation on healthcare reform has to be deferred because the Government must focus its efforts in the fight against human swine flu.

An across-the-board suspension of secondary schools will be considered if there are a large number of students falling sick, Chow said. However, these schools should be prepared to advance the summer break at any time.