‘Every man for himself’ in Europe’s bird flu simulation
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Plans by Switzerland to seal itself off in the event of a flu pandemic triggered “serious concern” by other countries during Common Ground, a recent simulation exercise, because of its strategic location as home to many drug and vaccine manufacturers.
This was just one of the many differences to emerge between European nations over border closures and emergency health measures in a training exercise whose results were published on Friday.
Similar concerns were raised about France, another important drug production centre, which also said it was considering border closures. However, French officials stressed they would exempt pharmaceutical workers and materials from travel bans.
Although judged “fit for purpose”, national plans paid less attention to international co-operation, incl-uding how to care for expatriates, restrict emigration and curb travel.
Several countries had not considered the possibility of school closures, or disruptions to public order, electricity supply and businesses.
The evaluation of the exercise, commissioned by the European Commission from the UK’s Health Protection Agency, called for greater understanding by member states of the laws governing travel restrictions across Europe.
Participants, who came from all EU member countries and neighbouring states, showed reluctance to share antiviral drug stocks with other countries.
The report said there was a need for greater transparency on the location of antiviral stockpiles, and more clarity for manufacturers on how the stocks they hold should be distributed.
The drug companies for their part called for greater guidance on legal liability, and an indication of which authority would decide when they should switch from the production of seasonal flu vaccines to those that would protect people from a pandemic strain. This was most likely to take place if bird flu were to mutate into a form transmissible between humans, which has yet to happen.
In the exercise, the European Commission’s Early Warning and Response System, designed to notify officials of human infections, became overloaded. The report called for back-up communications facilities and greater co-ordination between officials and the media.
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