EU rejects travel ban, world looks for flu measures

May 1st, 2009 - 6:21 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Brussels, May 1 (IANS) European Union (EU) member states will share their stocks of anti-viral medicines if one of their number is hard hit by the new swine flu virus, EU health ministers decided Thursday.
But the ministers rejected a French proposal to ban all flights from the EU to Mexico, the source of the outbreak, saying that this would not be effective.

After the World Health Organisation (WHO) Wednesday raised the global alert to five, suggesting a global pandemic was “imminent” although not inevitable, governments around the world attempted to strengthen their defences and readiness against the disease - and

reassure the public.

In the US, President Barack Obama rejected the idea of closing the border with Mexico as “akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out,” since there were already nearly 100 cases confirmed in the US, including one death - still the first reported fatality outside of Mexico, the presumed origin of the outbreak.

EU ministers also rejected a French call to ban flights from the EU to Mexico, a move Paris had proposed in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.

Such a ban would be “an empty signal: first, you can’t control that Mexicans can travel to Venezuela and travel from there, and second, if the flu is already over here, it’s here,” Danish Health Minister Jakob Axel Nielsen told the DPA.

EU ministers also decided to term the virus “novel flu,” stressing that it is “related to human-to-human transmission,” not caught from pigs.

“There is currently no scientific evidence of any link between this disease and the consumption of pork meat or products,” the joint statement stressed.

The World Health Organization updated Thursday the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of swine influenza to 257, including eight deaths.

The largest spike came from Mexico, where the number jumped from 26 cases to 97, including seven deaths. In the United States, across ten states, there were 109 cases including one death of a toddler in Texas.

Spain, the European country most affected so far by the H1N1 virus, said there were 13 confirmed cases and 84 suspected infections as of late Thursday.

Switzerland recorded its first confirmed case, whilst the Baltic state of Lithuania and the Republic of Ireland each reported a first suspected case.

Earlier Thursday the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said at least 19 people in four European countries were confirmed to have been infected with swine flu.

Those confirmed European cases were in Britain, Germany, Spain and Austria, the Swedish-based ECDC said.

In addition there were two suspected cases in France, the agency said. In all but one of the cases in Europe the people had visited Mexico.

Mexico itself has announced a five day shut-down of most public spaces, offices and infrastructure, with the President Felipe Calderon in a TV address urging people to stay in with their families - saying there was “no place as safe as your own home.”

The shutdown will last May 1 to 5, a public holiday in the country.

Confirmed cases also were found in Canada, New Zealand, Israel, Costa Rica and Peru, the ECDC said.

In Thailand, the Bangkok authorities green-lighted the dispersal of 100,000 free face masks, mostly for taxi drivers and foreign tourists.

Iraq announced a $30-million fund to combat swine flu, although so far it has only been confirmed in Israel in the Middle East.

Australia unveiled thermal scanners at its airports, to target incoming passengers who may be suffering from the virus.

China, which has yet to report any cases of swine flu, said it was starting a mass public awareness campaign in schools.

Britain also launched an ad campaign, called “Catch It, Bin It, Kill It!”, telling people to wash hands, and cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing.

Five people in Britain, including a girl of 12, are known to have the virus, but all are responding well to treatment.

Singapore raised it domestic alert from yellow to orange, whilst an emergency Association of South East Asian (ASEAN) countries is planned for next week.

The Philippines said it was reactivating its emergency plan from 2003, when the avian flu and SARS viruses struck.

New Zealand now has 13 confirmed cases of swine flu and 104 suspected cases, whilst Peru confirmed its first case of swine flu Thursday - on an Argentinian woman who stopped over in Mexico for just a few hours on a flight from New York to Argentina.

South Africa - which has two suspected cases but none yet confirmed - said it was ready for any possible outbreak, with enough medicine stockpiled.

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