Swine flu: is this the calm before the storm?

Dr Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organisation, has called for global solidarity in the fight against swine flu and warned almost everyone is susceptible to the disease.

Dr Margaret Chan

Margaret Chan: Swine flu may have given us a grace period, but we do not know how long this grace period will last. No one can say whether this is just the calm before the storm, she said. Photo: AFP

Dr Chan was speaking at a meeting in Geneva of health ministers and officials from around the world as the number of cases reached almost 9,000 with 74 deaths.

The number of confirmed cases in Britain has reached 102 as one more case was confirmed in Scotland last night.

Forty countries now have confirmed cases and the virus is expected to continue to spread although the alert phase remains at level five out of six, with six an official pandemic.

Dr Chan said: “On 29 April, I raised the level of pandemic influenza alert from phase 4 to phase 5. We remain in phase 5 today.

“This virus may have given us a grace period, but we do not know how long this grace period will last. No one can say whether this is just the calm before the storm.

“I strongly urge the international community to use this grace period wisely. I strongly urge you to look closely at anything and everything we can do, collectively, to protect developing countries from, once again, bearing the brunt of a global contagion.”

She said pregnant women appear to be at greater risk of complications from the H1N1 swine flu virus and one in four cases have suffered vomiting and diarrhoea with the bug.

Alan Johnson, health secretary, called for greater flexibility in the WHO pandemic alert phases to take into account the severity of the disease.

Mr Johnson said: “We need more time – we need to give you more time. My proposal is that you should have more flexibility. A pandemic describes the geographic spread rather than its severity and it’s very important that that is reflected in your ability to move to phase six.”

However Dick Thompson, WHO spokesman, said a severity scale could not be set globally because the disease will have a different impact in each country according to how developed health systems are, stockpiles of antiviral drugs, access to vaccines and the health of the population.

Foreign office advice to avoid Mexico has been dropped after officials said the peak of the outbreak there was over.

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