Govt holds emergency meeting on swine flu

By Jonathan Moore

Gordon Brown attended an emergency Cobra meeting chaired by health secretary Alan Johnson over the phone today to formulate the government’s plans to deal with the possible swine flu pandemic.

The prime minister was on a visit to Poland earlier today where he said Britain is one of the best prepared countries to deal with the outbreak and “all action necessary” would be taken to prevent it spreading.

“I understand the very real concern that people have in Britain and across the world. Let me reassure you that we have been preparing for this kind of scenario for many years,” he said.

“Swine flu is an international problem; it has crossed two continents.

“I do believe it will make countries more prepared, not just for this but for potential diseases that can spread throughout the world.

“We are all vigilant, we are all alert. We are all aware that people have fears. We will all take action to ensure that these fears are allayed.”

So far there have been two confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus in Britain with tens of other suspected cases being investigated across the country.

There have now been confirmed cases from across the globe from as far afield as New Zealand, Canada, Israel and Russia.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said earlier today the virus could no longer be contained as it has already spread too far.

In Mexico, its country of origin, there have already been hundreds of cases with more than 150 confirmed deaths though it has manifested itself in much milder forms in other parts of the world.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has already advised against all but essential travel to Mexico and a number of travel companies from across Europe, including Thomas Cook and Thomson Holidays, have already suspended flights and travel deals to the country.

The international health crisis has also had a negative effect on international money markets at a time when they can ill-afford to suffer any more setbacks. The FTSE and the German DAX were both down over fears of what effect the virus might have while the hardest hit have been airlines, travel companies and hotel chains.

The health secretary has already insisted we are well placed to tackle the crisis and that the government has enough stockpiles of antiviral treatment to treat half the population.

And London mayor Boris Johnson this afternoon offered to donate London’s entire stockpile of anti-viral drug Tamiflu, 100,000 tablets, to the central government to help ensure the UK is prepared.

Mr Johnson said: “I’m pleased to share these significant supplies of anti-virals with the agencies in the lead in protecting the UK and its capital.

“Thankfully – so far – the virus has not been reported in London, but I’d like to reassure everyone that tried and tested plans are in place to combat any threat, swiftly and comprehensively.”

The government is urging those suffering from flu-like symptoms to call NHS Direct rather than go to hospital to prevent the risk of infection.