Hong Kong could see its first severe human swine flu case - or even a death - among vulnerable groups next month as the number of cases climbs, medical experts and health officials warned yesterday. The warning came as 49 new confirmed cases were reported - close to Wednesday's record 54 - bringing the total to 221. Five more secondary schools were also closed yesterday after their students developed the flu, taking the total where classes have been suspended to eight. More than 70 per cent of the cases since the first one was confirmed on May 1 have emerged in the past week, but none so far have developed complications. The steering committee on swine flu, chaired by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, decided yesterday not to scale down the response to the outbreak, despite criticism that the government was overreacting to a disease that has so far proved no worse than seasonal flu. The move was in anticipation of severe cases in coming weeks. Health officials expect severe cases to appear among the elderly, young children and chronically ill patients who are most at risk of complications, and say the risk is high of a large-scale outbreak in homes for the elderly during the summer flu peak. The Food and Health Bureau will today seek approval from the Legislative Council Finance Committee for HK$1 billion to provide free swine flu vaccines for 2 million people in high-risk groups. Death rates for swine flu in developed countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States stand at 0.07 per cent, 0.17 per cent and 0.25 per cent, respectively. University of Hong Kong microbiologist Ho Pak-leung said this meant one death for every 400 to 1,400 cases. 'In Hong Kong, the total number of swine flu cases is expected to exceed 1,000 in July. By that time, we may see a severe case, or even death,' he said. But Chinese University respiratory medicine expert David Hui Shu-cheong said there should not be undue alarm about swine flu, which appeared to be very mild, similar to seasonal flu. Medical sector legislator Leung Ka-lau said frontline doctors were increasingly feeling that the government was overreacting. 'Many doctors think swine flu should be treated as seasonal flu, and even confirmed patients should not be hospitalised. The government should not treat swine flu like Sars. Good personal hygiene is the best way to deal with an outbreak.' A senior medical source said many isolation wards at public hospitals in the city were full because of the influx of swine flu patients and their contacts. Since yesterday, the Hospital Authority has admitted only confirmed patients to hospitals.