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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Tories' 'bird flu minister' call
Sick ambulance staff could affect the service, Mr Mercer warned
The UK government should appoint a single minister with responsibility for dealing with the threat of bird flu, the Conservatives have said.

Patrick Mercer, the party's homeland security spokesman warned the country might otherwise face a situation akin to that of the 1918 flu pandemic.

He called on the government to appoint a homeland security minister, who could oversee all bird flu planning.

But the government said it was as prepared as any country could be.

The government are clearly addressing the issue
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt told the Commons on Monday, that the government was taking "proportionate actions, based on the best available evidence" to prepare for an outbreak of pandemic flu.

But she said the government would continue to review its preparations "so that as far as any country can be fully prepared against the risk of pandemic flu, we in the UK will be prepared".

Co-ordination efforts

However Mr Mercer told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that, if the warning signs were not heeded, Europe could see a repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed up to 50 million people worldwide.

"There has got to be one single person in charge over this, before the sort of signs we saw in 1917 actually turns into the pandemic of 1918.

"I'm not saying that is going to happen, but there are very dangerous signs.

"I want a single minister for homeland security."

Mr Mercer said that, at present, the implications of bird flu were divided between various different government departments and ministers.

He warned that, if people in the UK were hit by a mutated bird flu, key workers such those working to provide electricity of gas, or ambulance personnel could be sick themselves, or have sick families - potentially affecting the country's infrastructure.

"There are lots of implications for this."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: "The government are clearly addressing the issue. I think the Chief Medical Officer and others have been pro-active and in that respect, they deserve our support.

"But what is clear is that we have to maintain the co-ordinated international effort, as well as what is done at home, to caution against the worst possible scenario which may be coming down the track."


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