Thursday, 30 April 2009

EU health ministers to hold swine flu talks

The Associated Press April 29, 2009, 11:47AM ET
EU officials say a Europe-wide travel advisory to avoid Mexico and unified prevention and treatment measures for swine flu will top the agenda Thursday at an emergency meeting of European Union health ministers.

EU spokeswoman Nina Papadoulaki said top EU health officials met with European drugmakers on Wednesday to hear their efforts to find a treatment for the flu and EU envoys were looking at other joint measures to take to contain the virus.

"There is a certain level of concern, but it should not give rise to panic," Papadoulaki said.
Britain, Spain, Austria and Germany already have confirmed cases of the disease, which is blamed for over 150 deaths and 2,400 infections in Mexico.

Health ministers from across the 27-nation bloc will meet in Luxembourg on Thursday to go over additional measures. French Health minister Roselyne Bachelot said she would push at those talks for the EU to suspend flights to Mexico to curb the spread of the disease.

National authorities are already sharing information on diagnosis and lab results through the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm, which has strongly advised against traveling to Mexico because of the outbreak there.

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou also urged Europeans to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico and to affected parts of the United States, but that was strongly criticized by airlines on Wednesday.

Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, secretary general of the Association of European Airlines called the warnings "irresponsible and ill-advised." He warned that advisories could do more harm than good and said airlines are "well-prepared to handle health crises."

Airline stocks dropped Monday on concerns that swine flu would keep travelers off planes, much as Asia's 2003 SARS epidemic did.

He said his group's 34 member airlines, including carriers like Lufthansa, British Airways and Air France-KLM, were informing passengers about the disease, risks and precautions.

"A priority now is to establish a coordinated European response and avoid a diversity of national rules and requirements," he said.

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