Guard up against bird flu

As fears of an outbreak of bird flu grew across Europe yesterday, the government moved quickly to assure Greeks that they would be fully protected against any spread of the virus by stockpiles of vaccines and antibiotics. The government also said yesterday that it had banned the import of any poultry from Turkey and Romania. There have been suspected outbreaks of bird flu in both countries but the results of tests are not likely to be known until tomorrow. The H5N1 strain of the avian influenza virus has caused the death of millions of birds and at least 60 people in Asia over the last two years and the UN has warned that the human casualties could run into the millions if there is a massive outbreak. However, Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis played down concerns that Greece could be severely hit by a pandemic. He said the government had taken the necessary steps to meet the disease head on by ordering 200,000 boxes and 250,000 kilos of powder of the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Substantial amounts of other drugs have also been ordered, Kaklamanis said. Experts told Kathimerini that this amount of medicine would be more than adequate for Greece. Checks for any cases of bird flu have been stepped up across the country. «The relevant authorities are in a constant state of readiness and a monitoring program is being carried out,» said Agricultural Development Minister Evangelos Bassiakos, who added that he had asked veterinarians to suspend a strike planned for Thursday. Bassiakos said he was hopeful they would comply. The government has ruled out for the time being a ban on the transfer of live poultry after the measure was deemed excessive and too difficult to enforce. Authorities in the region of Evros, which borders Turkey, said they were enlisting the help of hunting associations to take more than 1,000 samples from birds for testing. Meanwhile, authorities in Thessaloniki said they had plans to cull any birds found within a 3-kilometer radius of a case of bird flu.