Friday, May 1, 2009

Victoria ready to lock down if swine flu hits

Grant McArthur

May 01, 2009 12:00am

SCHOOLS, restaurants, theatres and gyms could be shut and AFL matches cancelled or played at empty stadiums if swine flu takes hold in Australia.

More than 100 Australians have been tested for the potentially deadly virus, as federal and state governments prepare to step up a co-ordinated crisis plan.

All 41 swine flu tests completed on Victorians have been negative.

The results of a further 10 tests are pending, but health authorities are confident the state is so far free of the virus.

Victoria's Chief Health Officer, Dr John Carnie, said stopping mass gatherings would be an option in an outbreak.

"At the moment, the new virus is not in the country. But those would be measures that would be considered if we start to have local transmission," he said.

"Obviously, these are very disruptive measures and none would be taken lightly."

Mexico - the epicentre of the outbreak, with possibly 150 deaths and 2400 infections - has shut down bars, cafes, gyms, cinemas, Aztec ruins and football games. President Felipe Calderon urged Mexicans to stay at home during a five-day holiday, starting today.

"Stay at home with your family, because there is no place as safe for protecting yourself against swine flu as your own home," he said.

The World Health Organisation raised its pandemic alert to the second-highest level of five, warning that a global pandemic was imminent.

Thermal cameras were switched on at eight of Australia's international airports.

Passengers detected with high temperatures will be referred to clinical staff and may have to provide nose and throat swabs.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the scanners would delay, but not prevent, swine flu from entering the country.

"It won't mean that we will necessarily be able to identify every person who's at risk of swine flu," she said.

"There is an incubation period. Some people who may be carrying the disease may not have a raised temperature at the time that they go through the scanner."

As pandemic fears took hold:

A TODDLER from Texas became the first person to die from the virus outside Mexico.

THE number of confirmed cases rose to 91 in the US, followed by Canada (13), Spain (10), Britain (5), Germany (3), New Zealand (3), Israel (2) and one in each of Austria, Costa Rica and Peru.

MEXICO cut the number of likely deaths to 84, but said the toll was sure to rise and warned the outbreak could cost the country more than $100 billion.

SPAIN reported the first case of an infected person who had not visited Mexico.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd urged Australians to regularly wash their hands.

Mr Rudd said thermal scanning at airports around Australia was one practical measure to stop the virus spreading.

Requiring passengers to fill out mandatory health declarations at border entry points was another. And a third, he said, was "for all Australians to engage in the simple practice of washing their hands with soap on a regular basis."

Australia has entered the fourth phase of the Australian Action Plan for Pandemic Influenza. Health authorities are ready to go to the next level.

Dr Carnie said the most minimal measure would be to isolate infected people, give them medication, and trace all their contacts.

Source: Herald Sun