FOR a long time, the Conservative health team has known it was a question not of ‘if’ but of ‘when’ there would be a pandemic outbreak of flu. There has been time to prepare for the outbreak and therefore as a nation the majority of plans to minimise its effect are in place. However we must not be complacent.
We recognise that there remain significant unanswered questions internationally about the likely impact on different segments of the population, but from your point of view it should be business as usual. The necessary counter-measures to flu are being taken, and supplies of Tamiflu and face masks for hospital staff have been increased.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) raised its pandemic alert status to level five last week, the second highest level.
A level-five alert indicates human-to-human transmission in at least two countries and means the WHO considers a pandemic to be “imminent”.
What this alert level doesn’t indicate is the severity of the outbreak, which to date looks to be quite mild.
I don’t want to create any panic, but it is predicted that we will see many more cases, and inevitably some serious cases; but on the whole people make a good recovery from flu.
Official UK guidance is that anyone with flu-like symptoms who might have been in contact with the virus – such as those travelling in affected areas of Mexico – should seek medical advice. But patients are being asked to minimise the risk of spreading the disease by not going to GP surgeries. Instead, they should stay at home and call their healthcare provider.
The Government is to deliver leaflets about the swine-flu outbreak and how to prevent it spreading to every UK household and they have launched a number which the public can call to listen to a recorded message providing information about the virus.
Looking beyond our own shores, there is a risk that a pandemic will expose the gap between rich and poor in this world – that we will protect our population effectively but find that there are literally millions of deaths in the poorest countries in the world. We are calling on the Government to do all they can to try to reduce that risk.