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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
'No secrecy' plea on bio-terrorism
Three cases of anthrax have caused panic in the US
Doctors' representatives have asked the government to avoid excessive secrecy in preparing British plans to combat any bio-terrorism menace.

As fears of anthrax attacks grow, the government has refused to discuss details of extra protections for water supplies and other key installations.

The level and details of planning for a direct chemical or biological on an urban area are also largely unknown.

We have too much secrecy and too few people knowing our contingency plans

Professor Vivienne Nathanson
American police are investigating an outbreak of anthrax in Florida in which one person has died and two more are ill in hospital.

But Scotland Yard and British politicians have stressed there is no specific credible threat of a bio-terror attack on the UK.

Professor Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, said: "We are concerned secrecy can inhibit proper discussion.

"People need to be reassured.

"Planning in the UK is relatively secretive. It is a question that needs to be addressed.

"We have too much secrecy and too few people knowing our contingency plans, which is a problem."

Public health

Prof Nathanson cited the example of the senior New York fire officers whom she said were among the first killed in the September 11 terror attack and were among few who knew about the city's contingency plans.

This eventuality, she warned, should not happen in the UK.

She acknowledged: "It is difficult to say any public health system in the world is capable but we need to reassure the public we can spot the nature of an attack and deal with it.

"We must ensure our disease surveillance system is as well-established as possible and that information is shared. It is our best hope."

Incubation periods

Prof Nathanson said the BMA would be taking up the matter with government ministers and making representations to ensure the secrecy is "not overdone".

She went on: "People are still travelling all over the world and with the long incubation periods of some biological agents disease could be spread."

Her comments came soon after the World Medical Association urged doctors worldwide to be on the alert for unexplained clusters of illnesses amid escalating fears of bio-terrorism.

Prof Nathanson said the BMA supported that view.

See also:

09 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax infection
10 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax: How do you stop it?
10 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax as a biological weapon
09 Oct 01 | Americas
America on high alert
10 Oct 01 | Americas
US names cyber-terrorism czar
09 Oct 01 | Health
FBI pursues anthrax lead
21 Sep 01 | Americas
New chief to battle US terror
10 Oct 01 | UK Politics
UK signs pact against bioterrorism
28 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Hackers 'branded as terrorists'
12 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
US computer networks at risk
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