China to shut borders if struck by bird flu
Updated: 2005-10-23 09:18
China will shut its borders if there is a single case of human-to-human
transmission of bird flu in the country, its deputy health minister has said.
As bird flu entered Britain yesterday with the discovery of the virus in a
parrot in quarantine, Huang Jiefu said saving lives would be Beijing's main
priority even if it meant a slowdown in the economy.
A Chinese woman
feeds her ducks and geese at a market in Shanghai, China October 20, 2005.
His warning came as finance
specialists predicted that a flu pandemic could devastate Asian economies. The
Asian Development Bank said a mild outbreak would cost the region up to $110
billion (￡62bn) in reduced consumption, investment and trade. A more severe
outbreak would lead to global recession.
Bird flu has killed 60 people in four south-east Asian countries and has led
to the deaths of tens of millions of birds since 2003. A flu pandemic would be
triggered if the lethal H5N1 strain mutated into a form that could jump from
human to human.
Yesterday the bank announced it would provide $58 million (￡33m) in grants to
help combat the disease before it spreads. 'Many economic activities would be
brought to a halt, while the health systems of most countries would be
overwhelmed,' a spokesperson said.
In Britain, it was revealed that 20,000 doctors will receive emergency
training on how to deal with a pandemic. The course, to teach doctors how to
spot symptoms, provide quick treatment and ensure infection control, will be
rolled out by the Health Protection Agency in the next few weeks.
A spokeswoman for the HPA said the organisation would provide the training
through Doctors.net.uk, a website accessed by 85 per cent of doctors.
The biggest risk to Britain would be if the virus mutated - most likely in
Asia - and was then spread by international travellers. Even if China was to
close its borders, said Britain's Chief Medical Officer, it would not be enough
to stop a pandemic from coming to Britain. Sir Liam Donaldson told The Observer:
'The modelling work we have done does suggest that the most time we might buy
with it is a couple of weeks.'
He said preventing the spread by blocking borders would only work if we
grounded every flight in the world - a highly unrealistic option. A ban would be
particularly difficult, he added, if the mutation occurred in a major travel hub
such as Singapore or Hong Kong.
'One of the cases of Sars which we had in the UK was a person who came in
with it and had done seven different flights between countries before arriving
here. You have these highly complex travel patterns now.'
While Donaldson said that it was unlikely that Britain would need to take
drastic steps such as closing borders and using quarantine, the government's
recently updated contingency plans do allow for serious measures if the pandemic
assumes 'nightmare' proportions. In the worst case scenario schools could be
closed, people prevented from moving and airports shut.
But health officials said such a catastrophic scenario was extremely remote
and stressed the UK was well positioned to ensure that the threat of bird flu
was contained. 'It's simply a matter of keeping our options open. It's unlikely
we would have to go down that route,' said a spokeswoman for the Department of
Donaldson also sought to reassure the public about food safety.
He said: 'We know that there have been a huge number of questions about the
safety of chickens, and of eating chicken. It is as safe as ever, but people are
worried about it. That's a concern we do need to address.'
The Food Standards Agency stated: 'Avian flu does not pose a food safety risk
for UK consumers. For people, the risk of catching the disease comes from being
in close contact with live poultry that have the disease, and not through eating
cooked poultry or eggs.'