KIEV, Nov. 2 – The government overreacted to an outbreak of the swine flu in Ukraine to give competitive advantage to Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at the next presidential election, a Tymoshenko rival charged Monday.
The panic triggered by the government’s decision to declare the outbreak a major threat, has served to overshadow recent scandals involving Tymoshenko loyalists, Arseniy Yatseniuk, the No. 3 most popular presidential candidate, said.
“This is in fact part of the political campaign,” Yatseniuk said in an interview with ICTV. “The main thing is to get the presidential office. All efforts and resources have been thrown for this.”
At least 71 people, in western regions of Ukraine, were killed by the swine flu over the past three weeks, but the death toll figure has been apparently hovering around levels usually caused by seasonal flu.
Oleksandr Bilovol, a deputy healthcare minister, said Monday the outbreak has been essentially contained in 11 out of 25 Ukrainian regions, with the number of people only 15% exceeding figures reported in previous years.
“Figures in other the regions are in line with 2007 and 2008,” Bilovol said.
The Tymoshenko government on Friday declared the outbreak as the threat of the third level – the highest possible – to unlock spending of up to 3 billion hryvnias to combat the swine flu.
Other measures included shutting down schools and public gatherings for three weeks across Ukraine, with the government also considering introducing restrictions on movement of people between the regions.
The measures, some of the sternest in the world, come in sharp contrast with other Eastern European countries that face similar challenges, analysts said.
Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, which tracks the swine flu internationally, sees the pandemic as “moderate” in severity with the overwhelming majority of patients experiencing only mild symptoms and a full recovery, often in the absence of any medical treatment.
Yatseniuk said the ban on public gatherings spreads fear and panic helping Tymoshenko to promote herself on television, while hindering other presidential candidates to campaign.
Yatseniuk is Tymoshenko’s biggest rival as both compete for votes in western regions of Ukraine. He is perhaps the only candidate that may challenge Tymoshenko in the first round of vote on January 17, 2010 to enter the runoff with opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych.
Yatseniuk’s rating has been showing negative growth over the past several months, suggesting that Tymoshenko has been winning over voters in the western regions.
“Why did the outbreak take place in four western regions? Because there are four battleground regions for the electorate,” Yatseniuk said.
He said the panic spread by the government helps to put aside issues that are politically damaging to Tymoshenko, including the pedophile and the murder scandals involving Tymoshenko lawmakers, and Ukraine’s dismal economic performance caused by mismanagement.
“Now, look what happened,” Yatseniuk said. “Does anybody talk about the pedophile scandal? No. Maybe somebody talks about Lozynskiy [a Tymoshenko lawmaker accused of shooting a person to death]? No. Maybe somebody talks about wages? No. Maybe somebody talks about four million unemployed? No. Maybe somebody talks about unpaid natural gas bills? No.”
“People that are in fear, that are poor, are easier to be manipulated,” Yatseniuk said. “This is what the state apparatus is aimed at – manipulating the people.” (tl/ez)