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Europe Braces for Swine Flu Impact

With two confirmed swine flu cases in Spain and two in Scotland, Britain and other European countries are preparing themselves as concern over the pandemic potential of the strain grows.

Confirmed or suspected swine flu cases have now been reported in nine European countries.

The World Health Organization in Geneva has raised its global alert to number four on the six level scale. Based on the current geographical spread of the disease, it is seen that the virus is a step closer to becoming a pandemic.

But as WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl says, level four represents that point where either large-scale community transmission takes off or it is not sustained and it dies out.

Given this uncertainty, Hartl says countries should use their time wisely at this critical moment.

"They should focus and step up factors or efforts to mitigate possible effects on their people," he said. "And so, as I said, create actions to protect the safety of their people should be a priority, communications, providing information, letting people know really what the risks are and how to prevent those risks, keeping people informed so they can take their own decisions and also knowing what they should do if they feel they have been infected."

Hartl says it is also a time when countries must develop hospitalization contingency plans and prepare the stockpiles of anti-viral drugs.

Understandably, people in Britain and elsewhere in Europe are concerned about where this outbreak may go.

On a trip to Warsaw, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the country is ready.

"Let me reassure you that we have been preparing for this kind of scenario for many years. Britain is amongst the best prepared countries in the world," he said.

Britain has stockpiles of anti-viral drugs that can treat roughly half the population.

Two people in Scotland are known to have contracted the disease while they were on their honeymoon in Mexico. Both developed mild flu symptoms and they have responded well to treatment.

But now at least a dozen others have come forward with suspected symptoms and they are currently being checked for the disease. Mr. Brown is confident the swine outbreak can be managed successfully.

"We together with the World Health Organization and our partners in Europe and internationally will continue to take all the urgent action that is necessary to halt the spread of this virus and to care for those connected," said Mr. Brown.

Britain's Foreign Office is discouraging non-essential travel to Mexico and a number of charter companies are canceling flights to Mexico. Screening as well has been increased at British airports, and those showing any symptoms are being urged to seek prompt medical consultation.