Government urged to set up specialist bird flu unit

A special government unit must be immediately set-up to co-ordinate Ireland’s response to an outbreak of bird flu following confirmation of the virus in two EU countries, it was warned today.

Dr Mary Upton, the Labour Party’s spokeswoman on agriculture, said the Government must respond with a pro-active campaign as the deadly avian flu has now spread from Asia into Turkey, Greece and Italy.

“This underlines the ability of the virus to travel and the difficulty of containing it. The logical progress of the virus will surely see it hit these shores in the not too distant future,” she said.

“The Government should respond with a renewed and pro-active campaign to assure Irish people that the necessary steps are being taken to protect the country against avian flu.”

The European Commission today moved to strengthen Europe’s defences against avian flu as it was confirmed Greece and Italy have found the H5N1 strain in dead migratory swans. The same strain of the virus has killed around 80 people in south-east Asia and two children in Turkey.

Tests were also being carried out at a laboratory today to examine whether a strain of the virus found in swans in Slovenia is the deadly H5N1.

Dr Upton said one expert should be appointed to co-ordinate the Government’s response to avoid confusion through different ministers making varying statements on Ireland’s readiness to respond.

“The consequences of bird flu arriving in Ireland and any subsequent pandemic are startling. Given the spread of the virus so close to Ireland the Government must begin to take the threat much more seriously than they have up to now,” she said.

Dr Upton said checks at airports and ports must be strengthened, and a national bio-security unit must be established as quickly as possible.

The discovery of the virus in the two EU countries has sent contingency plans into action including the shut-down of the movement of poultry in the affected regions and heightened monitoring.

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