Asia, Europe mobilize against spread of swine flu

Governments adopted measures last used during the SARS crisis of 2003.

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

TAIPEI, TAIWAN – Asian and European countries took steps to block the spread of swine flu Monday, as Mexico increased the number of suspected victims to 103 dead and 1,614 total cases.

Cases have also been confirmed in the Spain, Canada, and the US, with suspected cases in at least five other countries.

Governments across Asia dusted off measures last adopted during the SARS crisis of 2003, which remains fresh in peoples' memories here. The new crisis is also an echo of the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has killed hundreds, mostly in southeast Asia.

The BBC reported that the new swine virus has only been confirmed as the cause of 20 of the deaths in Mexico.

The news service said that tests were being "carried out on individuals or groups in New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Brazil, Britain, and Israel who fell ill following travel to Mexico."

Spain on Monday reported Europe's first confirmed case of swine flu, in a young man recently returned from Mexico, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Airports in Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines put up thermal scanners last used in the SARS scare, and South Korea and Indonesia took similar measures, the AP reported.

In addition, the Philippines temporarily banned pork from the US and Mexico. Russia, China, and Thailand also banned pork imports from Mexico and parts of the US, though a World Health Organization (WHO) official said "there was no evidence to link exposure to pork with infection," the BBC reports.WHO officials will meet in Geneva tomorrow to decide whether to raise the pandemic threat level, the BBC said. The UK said it has "stepped up" surveillance to guard against the disease.

Reuters reports that China yesterday started immediately returning or destroying pork shipments from Mexico and three US states.

The Associated Press reports that Hong Kong, which was hard-hit by SARS, has assembled a team to develop a test for the new virus.

Thomas Tsang, controller for territory's Center for Health Protection, said the government and universities aim to develop a quick test for the new flu strain in a week or two that will return results in four to six hours, compared to existing tests that can take two or three days.

Japanese scientists also scrambled into action, according to a report from the Bangkok Post.

Japan said it would fast-track efforts to find a vaccine, while one company pulled back the families of staff based in Mexico, travel agencies scrapped package tours and drug stores reported a brisk trade in face masks.

In Taiwan, which was also hit hard by SARS, the health minister urged the island's public to stay calm, Agence France-Presse reports.

"There is no need to panic over the outbreak at the moment. The present situation is like a tropical storm emerging on the other side of the Pacific which poses no immediate threat to people here," Health Minister Yeh Chin-chuan said, according to the report.

Meanwhile, swine flu worries rattled Asian and Europe markets, hitting airline stocks especially hard.

Bloomberg reports that British Airways stock was down as much as 17 percent Monday, with Air France down as much as 10 percent, on fears swine flu could lead to a cutback in air travel.

In Asia, Air China was down 13 percent, Singapore Airlines about 5 percent, and Australia's Qantas Airways off 4 percent.

Reuters reports that broader markets were down or flat in Asia and Europe Monday, with analysts gloomy about the effect of swine flu fears.

"A nasty chill will run through the market with swine flu as people think back to the SARS virus," said Justin Urquhart Stewart, investment director at Seven Investment Management.
"The threat of the pandemic will add further weakness to global trade – we saw with SARS tangible percentage points knocked off the index and that was in a buoyant time. Put that in a weaker time and it is likely to be more unpleasant."


Cleric breaks off peace talks with Pakistani government (The New York Times)

Cruise ship repels pirates with gunfire (Associated Press)

Turkish police in gunbattle with militants (Reuters)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Asia, Europe mobilize against spread of swine flu
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today