The World Health Organisation is preparing to raise the worldwide alert for the new strain of ‘flu virus to its maximum level but is keen to avoid unnecessary panic.
The organisation’s director told a Spanish newspaper that declaring a Level 6 pandemic is a measure of the geographic spread of the disease, rather than its potential to kill. So far, the WHO has identified around 1,000 cases of Influenza A – originally known as swine ‘flu – in 20 countries around the world. There are 40 suspected cases in Spain – the highest level in Europe – but only six are being treated in hospital. In Mexico, at the heart of the latest outbreak, the government is reviewing a shut-down in the country which was called last week to keep the spread of the virus in check. There have been 25 confirmed deaths in Mexico. Authorities doled out a million litres of hand disinfectant, a million pairs of latex gloves and countless face-masks. Restaurants, offices and cinemas were closed. Sporting events were cancelled or played before empty terraces. Even church-goers stayed away – with services being relayed on TV. Officials say the measures appear to have had an effect. At the weekend, Mexico’s health authorities said the epidemic had passed its peak, and the president said the outbreak in the country had entered its “stabilisation phase.” Now they are talking about getting back to business as usual, possibly by Wednesday. But there are warnings against complacency from governments and scientists alike. Experts say a lull in reported cases could easily be followed by a surge – and some are warning against bringing the current strain into contact with other forms of ‘flu.