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Johnson unveils flu pandemic plan

Antiviral drugs could be available to at least half the population if a flu pandemic hits the UK, under new Government plans.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson set out measures to tackle any future pandemic, which he said is one of the "most severe risks currently facing the UK".

And he said that the current stockpile of antivirals - which can cut the length of the illness - is being doubled in preparation.

Under the initiative, 14.7 million courses of antibiotics will also be purchased to help fight complications that could lead to death.

The Government said that it also aims to buy 350 million surgical masks and 34 million respirators for frontline NHS and social care staff.

The measures are for a "reasonable worst-case scenario", which would see between 25% and 50% of the UK population infected.

Experts predict that up to 750,000 extra deaths could occur across Britain as a result of any pandemic.

Peter Openshaw, head of respiratory infections at the National Heart and Lung Institute of Imperial College, welcomed the proposals.

He said: "This is an important landmark in the ongoing preparations for a future pandemic.

"It serves as an excellent model on which to base a wider European and international policy, vital for a disease that does not respect national boundaries."

Copyright © PA Business 2007

National Heart and Lung Institute of Imperial College

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"It's only a matter of time. I wonder if we could do something to purify the recycled air on long haul passenger flights? But, our only form of defence is a healthy immune system, which is why I supplement my diet daily" - Name and address supplied

"Overall, a total waste of money, for even the doctors in Vietnam et al who have been witness to the deadly bird flu in humans have stated that Tamilflu et al is, and I quote, "Useless". Indeed, after taking Tamiflu none of their patients survived. Therefore  the government is just living in hope but where in reality there is currently, no hope. The reason, the virus mutates constantly and where a new drug has to be developed to fight the new strain. All that is happening across the world is that the huge pharmaceutical companies are making a bird flu drug that is not effective in saving lives. They know this but with so many billions of profits to be made, whose bothered? Therefore the drugs strategy that the world is so reliant upon will let us down and where the only thing that will solve the problem is at its source. Something that Prof. Kennedy Shortridge has been trying to have adopted since he firstly discovered in 1997 that bird flu had mutated into humans. He was the first person to do this. Therefore the £100 million would be better spent by giving it to the man who first determined that human bird flu had arrived and where if we have to stand a chance at all, Prof. Shortridge's strategy has to be adopted" - Dr David Hill, World Innovation Foundation, Bern, Switzerland