Page last updated at 12:01 GMT, Monday, 20 February 2006

In quotes: Bird flu planning

Bird's claw
In Europe, bird flu has been found in France, Germany and Austria
With bird flu strain H5N1 detected in France, and other European countries moving to protect their domestic poultry flocks, the UK government has said poultry in Britain does not need to be locked up.

Experts, government officials and farmers have been giving their views on how the UK is coping with the possibility the strain could come here.


Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "Our contingency plan says that if there's an outbreak in this country, we would order the housing of birds.

"If there was an outbreak on the current migratory routes to this country - which there so far has not been - we would have an urgent review of the risk assessment.

"But Germany, for example, which has actually had outbreaks now in wild birds, only ordered the housing of their birds when that happened.

"Both Germany and Holland, back in September - many people have forgotten this - ordered the housing of their poultry unnecessarily, only to have to let them out again a few weeks later."


Professor Neil Ferguson is a mathematical biologist from Imperial College London.

"I think at the moment the government's response is proportionate just because of the very large numbers of animals which would have to be moved indoors if we moved to that policy.

"But we should be considering rapidly changing that stance.

"This is a disease which doesn't go away so we are going to be living with H5N1 in Western Europe, I believe, in wild bird populations - even endemic in wild bird populations - for decades perhaps, or even sporadically in those populations every year.

"So we need to have a response which is sustainable in the long term and, whilst extreme precautions might seem attractive initially, I think we need to be thinking for what we will be doing in 12-48 months' time in terms of having a sustainable policy which minimises the chance of the infection getting into domestic poultry.

"We will get outbreaks in domestic poultry. In that case, what we want to do is contain those outbreaks as quickly as possible without risking human health and without risking a major epidemic."


"A one-off dead bird isn't necessarily something to worry about, but if you come across several, that's more serious.

"But given the results from France, caution is the word - people should report dead birds because if they're not infected at least they can be ruled out of the equation."


Julian Hughes is a bird migration expert with the RSPB.

"The government has said that it's not inevitable, but I think none of us would be surprised if a case was confirmed some time in the next couple of weeks, particularly because the weather is due to turn cold again over the next few days.

"Although we don't have any big migration routes, lots of birds are on the move, there may be smaller numbers on the move getting away from cold weather further east in Europe."


Clive Wreathall is a turkey farmer from Romney Marsh in Kent. "The truth of the matter is that we won't know until - if or when - it arrives here whether the measures that have been put in place are correct.

"All we can do is work on the best advice given to us by the state veterinary service and the experts. Time will prove whether we're well prepared or not."


Professor Rod Griffiths is president of the Faculty of Health at the Royal College of Physicians.

"We'd be foolish to assume that it wasn't going to come; we have to have the plans in place.

"I mean it would be completely foolish not to have those plans, but I think until it actually hits these shores, it probably isn't sensible to go on to an even more extreme state of preparedness, simply because then you would have no idea how long to keep it in place for."


Richard Thomas, spokesman for Birdlife International, said cold weather in eastern Europe could have caused birds to fly west.

"We know that birds move west to get to warmer climates, so it makes sense that would be the case.

"Because all the birds are dropping dead at the same time, we think there must have been a biosecurity breach in the Black Sea region, possibly the Ukraine or Turkey."


Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart from the Local Government Association, said: "This is uncharted territory in this country. Yes, I think that Defra and the local authorities have the plans in place but this is not easy.

"Obviously we've got the experience of what's happened in Holland and in Vietnam but I think it's up to Defra to make the policy decisions, we simply do what we're asked to do."


Retired Brigadier Alex Birtwhistle, who co-ordinated the response to the foot-and-mouth crisis in 2001, questioned the government response.

"If it's a major crisis - and I'm thinking of maybe avian flu - are the political parties going to declare a temporary truce sufficient to deal with the problem?

"My bet is that they're not. My bet is that the civil service will continue to be increasingly politicised, the best decisions will not be laid before ministers and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see another complete cock-up."


The Association of Chief Police Officers said police would act if necessary if there was public disorder in the event of an outbreak.

"Planning in relation to a flu pandemic is led by the government with appropriate support from other agencies, including the emergency services.

"The police service has a responsibility under the Civil Contingencies Act to produce business continuity plans in every force to ensure that service to the public can be maintained when faced with events such as a flu pandemic.

"The police service will also be prepared to deal with any public disorder issues arising from the impact of any pandemic situation, for example the cancellation or closure of large-scale public events to minimise the spread of infection.

"Plans are well rehearsed and the service stands ready to assist as appropriate."

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