Thursday, April 30, 2009

WHO raises flu alert to five as pandemic 'imminent'

Updated at: 0249 PST, Thursday, April 30, 2009

GENEVA: The World Health Organisation on Wednesday raised its flu alert to phase five out of six, WHO chief Margaret Chan said, signalling that a pandemic was "imminent" following the swine flu outbreak.

"I have decided to raise the influenza pandemic alert from phase four to phase five," the WHO director general announced after an emergency meeting of the UN health agency's pandemic experts.

"This is a signal to governments, ministries of health... to the pharmaceutical industry, that certain actions now should be undertaken with increased urgency," she told journalists.

She underlined that the threat following the swine flu outbreak focused on Mexico and the United States "must be taken seriously."

Phase five, one step short of a full pandemic, is characterised as a "strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalise... the planned mitigation measures is short," according to the WHO's global emergency planning.

"All countries should immediately now activate their pandemic preparedness plans," said Chan, adding that thanks to preparations made following the avian flu outbreak, countries are now better prepared than before to deal with a pandemic.

"Preparedness measures undertaken because of the H5N1 influenza was an investment and we are now benefitting from this investment," she said.

The move came after a meeting of scientific experts on the emergency flu pandemic panel recommended raising the level from four.

Earlier, a senior WHO official said there was no evidence that the spread of the swine flu virus was slowing.

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