More cash, staff for flu drive

The government yesterday approved 3.9 million euros in extra funding and appointed another 250 personnel to tackle a possible bird flu outbreak in Greece. The extra cash is to be spent on laboratory equipment used in testing samples of suspect birds and to pay the wages of some 400 staff employed in the bird flu crackdown, government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said. «The government is taking all the necessary measures to ensure that it will be totally prepared to tackle a likely aggravation of the situation,» Antonaros said. He stressed that such a risk «does not exist at the current time.» Meanwhile, Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis endorsed the recruitment of an additional 250 veterinarians to handle «any unforeseen and urgent needs arising from bird flu.» State laboratories have analyzed samples from more than 1,800 birds since October but none have tested positive, Deputy Agriculture Minister Alexandros Kontos said yesterday following a tour of veterinary laboratories in Thessaloniki. He said a total of 400 veterinarians and other experts – 200 from the army and 200 employees on short-term contracts – are powering a countrywide effort to curb bird flu. «The risk of the virus spreading has been minimized but not eliminated. And this shows that the state machinery is functioning very efficiently,» Kontos added. Agriculture Minister Evangelos Bassiakos yesterday continued a tour of regions bordering Turkey to ensure that inspections are being carried out scrupulously and to put pressure on locals to keep their fowl indoors. Bassiakos is due to meet local authority leaders in Drama, Kozani and Thessaloniki today for talks on coordinating their measures to curb the spread of bird flu.

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