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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK
UK signs pact against bioterrorism
The anthrax bacterium
Two anthrax cases are being investigated in America
UK Health Secretary Alan Milburn has signed a deal with his US counterpart to help protect both countries from the threat of terrorists armed with biological weapons.

Mr Milburn hailed the agreement, which he signed with US health and human services secretary Tommy Thompson in Washington, as a "unique partnership".


Just as we stand together to defeat international terrorism, so we stand together and work together to protect our people

Alan Milburn
Health Secretary
The pact means the UK and America will jointly review all possible threats, their surveillance systems and will test and strengthen contingency plans as their public health systems "stand together".

The UK already has contingency plans in place, said Mr Milburn, who stressed there was no specific credible threat against the UK.

Worries about bioterrorism have been stoked by two cases of anthrax in Florida, one fatal, which the FBI continues to investigate.

And on Wednesday evening the US State Department told its embassies to stock up on antibiotics to guard against anthrax attacks.

Linking resources

Mr Milburn said the deal, called "Collaboration in improving public health responses to emergencies", linked the resources of the two health systems in the prevention, early detection and control of infectious diseases.

"The agreement my colleague Secretary Thompson and I have signed today on behalf of our two governments demonstrates our shared resolve to support each other as we deal with the new threats facing the world," Mr Milburn continued.

Alan Milburn, Health Secretary
Milburn says there is no specific credible threat
"It commits our two countries to work together to create the strongest, most effective, most innovative means to protect the health of our people against any future threat that may be posed by terrorists.

"By forming this unique partnership we are bringing together a group of scientists and experts with unrivalled knowledge and experience and ensuring that a network of surveillance establishes a system of early warning and constant vigilance."

Despite their different health care systems, the UK and American faced common challenges that knew no national boundaries, argued Mr Milburn.

Protection in place

Praising the US government's resolve in the wake of the 11 September attacks, he continued: "International terrorism will not go away unless we make it go away.

"I know that many people, on both sides of the Atlantic, fear the prospect of further terrorist attacks and the form they might take.

"I understand their concerns. These are difficult and testing times for us all. But it is important that fear does not win."

The health secretary acknowledged there were dangers of raising public concerns by preparing for the worst but the government would continue to review its plans for public protection and tackling health emergencies.

"Extensive contingency planning is already in place. There is much we have already done and there is more we must still do. It would be foolish to be anything other than vigilant.

"On both sides of the Atlantic the public can take comfort from the fact that our emergency services have an impressive track record in dealing with demanding situations."

Fears played down

Earlier on Tuesday, Home Secretary David Blunkett played down fears of an anthrax attack.

"We do not know that what happened in Florida came from a terrorist - it may have come from a madman who wanted to cause fear and dissension."

He added that the UK happened to "lead worldwide" in anthrax vaccines, although the use of bacteria in a biological attack was unlikely.

"If you were going to commit mass terrorism you would nto use anthrax because of the nature of the spread of the disease and the nature of the dose that would have to be given."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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"Mr Blair is an astute politician"
Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking on Abu-Dhabi TV
"We cannot settle problems with terrorism"
See also:

10 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax scare shakes US
10 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair bolsters UK troop morale
09 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Allies want 'justice, not revenge'
10 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax as a biological weapon
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