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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
Anthrax alerts across Europe
Italian postal workers
Postal workers have started wearing protective gloves
Anthrax alerts spread across Europe on Tuesday, even though the only known cases of contamination remain inside the US.

In countries from Russia and the Baltic States to Cyprus, white powder caused evacuations and fear.

Now is not a time for pranks. These are serious issues

Finnish Interior Minister
In France, dozens of people were reported to be under observation in hospital after coming into contact with white powder sent through the post.

A post office and bank were closed in central Paris, while in the western city of Le Mans 10 people were taken to hospital after powder was sent to an electricity company.

And in Rouen, around 40 people were placed under observation after a scare at a laboratory belonging to the Shell oil company.

We're getting suspicious letters every half-hour - it's a real panic

Luxembourg health official
In Luxembourg, at least 20 envelopes were being analysed for anthrax, most of them received at some of the country's 200 banks.

"We're getting suspicious letters every half-hour," said Nicholas Rume, deputy director of the public health department. "It's a real panic, especially at banks which have received most of the envelopes."

In Germany , tests on white powder sent to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's offices showed no trace of anthrax or any other dangerous substance, the government said Tuesday.

The national mail service, Deutsche Post, said more than 20 suspect items had been reported in the past week.

US Netherlands embassy
The US embassy in the Netherlands was hit by an alert
In one case, in the western city of Aachen, a 25-year-old man was reportedly given precautionary treatment after finding powder and a newspaper photo of Osama Bin Laden in his mailbox.

Seven Norwegians were taken to hospital for medical checks and antibiotics after touching powder received in the city of Notodden, south-west of Oslo.

Lithuania had reports of envelopes containing white powder at the president's office, the US embassy and a major newspaper.

Estonia has examined at least two suspicious letters, but believes the powder in at least one of them was white sugar.

Officer in Cagliari
Police officers in Italy wore masks as they investigated a suspect envelope
Russia was hit by its first alert on Tuesday, when a Moscow furniture firm received an envelope of white powder in the post.

Sweden has reported four letters and small packages with suspicious contents, which are being examined by biological warfare experts, said officials.

Swiss authorities reported suspect letters including 10 in Basel.

In other alerts:

  • Hungary reported a series of alerts, all negative.
  • Finland also had four reports of suspect mail.
  • Italian police seized dozens of suspect letters and passed them to scientists for investigation.
  • Czech and Slovak experts have begun testing dozens of suspicious letters and packages for anthrax.
  • Six-thousand postal workers in the Netherlands have been handed out rubber gloves to around 4,000 mail delivery workers and 2,000 mail sorters.

People deliberately creating false alarms were condemned.

Mr Schroeder described the hoax involving his office as "completely irresponsible".

"Now is not a time for pranks. These are serious issues," said Finnish Interior Minister Ville Itala said.

Not all the alarms have been caused deliberately by hoaxers.

Accidental alerts

An alert was sparked at a university near Rouen in France when 60 envelopes arrived from the Florida town, Boca Raton, where the first anthrax cases emerged. Officials found only advertising material inside.

A number of false alarms were sparked after a Dutch firm sent more than 3,600 incense cones to companies around the country, in a mailshot exercise.

And in Cyprus , an alert was triggered when members of a running club marked out a course in white flour in public gardens in Nicosia. Firemen donned yellow protective suits to scoop up the powder for analysis, before the Hash House Harriers Club were revealed as the "culprits".

See also:

12 Oct 01 | Health
'Flaws' in bioterror defence
10 Oct 01 | Business
Anthrax boost for drugs companies
15 Oct 01 | Health
Britain 'prepared' for bioterror
10 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax as a biological weapon
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