NEWS

Task force set up to tackle bioterrorism

A government task force involving security experts and scientists will come into operation today to handle any terrorist threats involving biological weapons, Health Minister Alekos Papadopoulos said yesterday. The task force will be set up at the Interior Ministry’s General Secretariat for Civil Defense. Its members will include representatives from the armed forces, the police, the fire brigade, the coast guard, the Hellenic Atomic Energy Board and the National First Aid Center. Papadopoulos stressed, however, that the only incidents relating to biological terrorism involved a countrywide rash of hoaxes which are unacceptable and which create a wider panic. He said that in Greece there was no reason to be afraid. But we are taking preventive measures for any possibility of incidents, as all countries are doing in accordance with guidelines from the World Health Organization. Papadopoulos called on the public to remain calm, saying that the state was capable of dealing with such problems. Yesterday’s meeting was attended by the representatives of the services and ministries involved, as well as the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. Manoussos Parayioudakis, the chiefs of the police, fire brigade and coast guard and the head of the Athens 2004 Olympics security, Lt. Gen. V. Tassiopoulos. The Pasteur Institute of Greece also is prepared to act in case of germ warfare and has the necessary infrastructure to carry out diagnoses and produce vaccines. At a news conference yesterday, the Pasteur Institute’s managing director, Prof. Christos Stournaras, said that there was no danger of an anthrax epidemic, noting that the bacillus is very sensitive to antibiotics and so all that is necessary is for the disease to be diagnosed within two days. He said that Greece did not possess the raw material for making vaccines because there was no issue of a mass infection. Regarding other forms of biological warfare, such as smallpox, Stournaras said that Greece had a large stock of vaccines. He added that the production, storage, transformation and and use of such weapons was almost impossible for terrorists. The Center for Infectious Disease Control announced that people who receive letters or parcels that they suspect may contain germs should not open them and should call the police.