Harney to attend EU meeting on swine flu threat

Health Minister Mary Harney is due to attend an emergency EU meeting in Luxembourg today to coordinate efforts to prevent the spread of swine flu in Europe.

Health Minister Mary Harney is due to attend an emergency EU meeting in Luxembourg today to coordinate efforts to prevent the spread of swine flu in Europe.

Britain, Spain, Austria and Germany have already confirmed cases of the disease, which has killed up to 168 people in Mexico over the past few weeks.

A toddler from Mexico also died in the US state of Texas yesterday after contracting the virus.

The World Health Organisation has increased its pandemic threat level to phase five, saying it believes a pandemic is imminent.

The Luxembourg meeting will discuss whether to issue a Europe-wide travel advisory for Mexico, after many EU nations warned travellers to avoid unnecessary trips to Mexico and parts of the United States where outbreaks have been confirmed.

French Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said she would push for the EU to suspend flights to Mexico.

The EU ministers will also debate more unified measures for prevention and treatment.

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou met with European drug firms yesterday to discuss efforts to produce vaccines and antivirals to combat swine flu.

National authorities share information on diagnosis and lab results through the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm, which has strongly advised against travelling to Mexico.

Ms Vassiliou urged Europeans to avoid non-essential travel to Mexico and to affected parts of the United States, but that advice was strongly criticised by airlines yesterday.

Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, secretary general of the Association of European Airlines, called the warnings “irresponsible and ill-advised” and said they could do more harm than good. Airlines are “well-prepared to handle health crises”, he said.

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