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Asia Activates Pandemic Plans After WHO Alert


Health authorities in Asia have swiftly responded to the World Health Organization's warning of an "imminent pandemic" of swine flu. Authorities have activated pandemic plans, tightened surveillance at borders and stockpiled more drugs.

Hong Kong, the Philippines and Australia activated swine flu hotlines Thursday as part of stepped up efforts to prevent an outbreak. Authorities also urged the public to maintain good hygiene to prevent the spread of the virus.

In the Asia-Pacific, only New Zealand has confirmed cases of swine flu.

Philippine health officials went on television Thursday to alert the public of the threat of a pandemic, as described by the World Health Organization.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said personal hygiene is the first line of defense against swine flu.

"Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze," said Duque. "Alchohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. Please avoid close contact with sick people."

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has ordered the health department to buy more anti-viral drugs to add to its stockpile of 600,000 doses of the drug Tamiflu.

In Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says the government has stepped up surveillance at borders.

"Thermal scanners will be switched on progressively in eight Australian international airports - Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Cairns, Gold Coast and Darwin," said Mr. Rudd. "Furthermore from tomorrow evening, all international passengers will be asked to fill-in health declaration cards to report flu-like symptoms."

Japan said Thursday it will tighten quarantine checks.

The human swine flu outbreak started in Mexico, where it is known to have killed at least seven people and infected 26. The virus has quickly spread, and has been found in the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany and Israel, prompting the WHO to raise its pandemic alert to its second highest level. On Thursday, Switzerland confirmed a swine flu case there.

In Indonesia, the health ministry has warned against travel to Mexico and other countries with confirmed swine flu cases. Indonesia and China banned pork imports from affected countries, even though health experts say there is no evidence of infection from eating the meat.

In Hong Kong, which was paralyzed by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2003, it was business as normal and few people wore surgical masks. But the territory's top health officials and medical experts convened Thursday to assess the situation.

Dr. York Chow, Hong Kong's Secretary for Health, says the government will raise its flu alert level as soon as it is required.

"Once the WHO is going to announce the pandemic alert has raised to level 6 or there is a first confirmed case of swine flu in Hong Kong we will definitely raise the pandemic alert to emergency immediately," said Chow.

Swine flu is spread through droplets that infected people expel when sneezing and coughing. People can also contract the disease by touching infected surfaces and then touching their hands to their mouth and nose.

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