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Sunday, 21 October, 2001, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
UK 'prepared for bioterror threat'
The UK and US may jointly purchase antibiotics
Health Secretary Alan Milburn has said the government has "planned for all eventualities" after the 11 September terrorist attacks.

One person in the United States has died and several others have been infected with anthrax, which has been posted to several media organisations as well as the Senate in Washington.

In the UK there have been dozens of incidents involving suspect packages containing white powder but none has actually been confirmed as anthrax.

Mr Milburn, speaking on BBC One's Breakfast With Frost programme, said emergency services and "frontline" doctors had been issued with new bioterror guidelines.

It would be foolish to be anything other than vigilant after the appalling events of 11 September.

Alan Milburn
But he repeated that there was no "specific or credible threat" against the UK.

The government has also announced plans to introduce retrospective legislation against bioterror hoaxers.

Retrospective laws

The new anti-hoaxer laws, which are unlikely to be approved by Parliament until next month, would impose maximum jail sentences of up to seven years for hoaxers.

The legislation would be backdated to apply from 0001 BST on 21 October.

Mr Milburn said: "What we're trying to do is in a responsible and proportionate way, plan for all eventualities.

"It would be foolish to be anything other than vigilant after the appalling events of 11 September.

"But I hope we're doing that in a way that isn't adding to public concern."

The Independent on Sunday said the bioterror guidelines were contained in a 16-page document called Response to the Deliberate Release of Chemicals and Biological Agents which had been sent to councils and fire brigades.

'Remote risk'

Mr Milburn said: "There is an obligation on government to prepare for any eventuality however remote the risk might be."

He said the government had reviewed all of its emergency plans with Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson.

Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn: "It would be foolish not to be vigilant"
Mr Milburn said: "These are actions that any responsible government would have to carry out.

"We've got to get this absolutely in proportion...otherwise we're going to have real public panic and that isn't going to help anybody."

With increasing speculation that the terrorists will turn to smallpox next, Mr Milburn refused to go into detail but said there were stocks of the vaccine in place.

'We can pool intelligence'

Mr Milburn said there was a lot of Anglo-American co-operation with regard to vaccines.

He said: "We're looking at what we can do on the joint purchase of vaccines and antibiotics.

"There are things that we can do together here, not least because we can pool intelligence, and we can pool some of the real expertise that we've got, both in this country and elsewhere."

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