The World Health Organisation (WHO) today raised its flu alert level to phase five out of six, signalling that a pandemic was “imminent”.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan called on all countries to immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans.
Australia ahead of the game: Roxon
Following the announcement, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said Australia had already done so.
“We are ahead of the game, if you like, in those situations,” she told ABC Radio.
Cabin crews were making announcements on all incoming flights to Australia requesting people with flu-like symptoms to identify themselves and health declaration cards must now be completed at border entry points.
Ms Roxon said the government had also rolled out a series of public health advertisements regarding the potentially deadly virus in local print media, and thermal scanners had been deployed to airports around the nation but would not be used until recommended by the nation\’s chief medical officer.
WHO\’s heightened pandemic alert does not mean Australia will automatically raise its level in response, she said.
“We still have no confirmed cases of the disease in Australia, but it certainly means that the severity of this disease and its capacity to spread is heightened,” Ms Roxon said.
The number of Australians being tested for swine flu had risen to 128, up from 90, which she said was the result of increased airport surveillance.
Overnight, the United States declared its first fatality, a 23-month-old child, from the disease. It is the only known swine flu death outside Mexico.
“I think the likelihood that we will have no cases in Australia is decreasing,” Ms Roxon said.
Sydney airport \’ready to gaurd against flu\’
NSW Premier Nathan Rees believes the nation\’s busiest international airport – Sydney\’s Kingsford-Smith – is well prepared for a possible case of the flu.
“All of the appropriate contingency measures in place deal with this threat,” he told reporters on his way into a meeting of commonwealth, state and territory leaders in Hobart.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has cancelled a trade trip to the Middle East and Europe so she can coordinate her state\’s response.
“In light of the emerging situation internationally, I believe it is important for me to remain in Queensland to oversee the state\’s preparedness and respond to any possible outbreak,” she said.
Ms Bligh had been due to travel on to the United Arab Emirates, Spain and Russia on the 13-day trip from May 4.
A government spokeswoman said a trade trip to the US by Trade Minister Stephen Robertson was still scheduled to go ahead later in May.
West Australian Premier Colin Barnett is confident Australia will avoid the problems facing other countries.
“I\’ve got confidence in the quarantine and the health measures in place by the commonwealth and at state level,” he said.
“Australia is well prepared for this, and I think that everything that possibly can be done is being done.