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Australia Activates Bioterrorism Emergency Plan - 2001-10-16


Australia remains on high alert after dozens of anthrax scares have been reported across the country. In the state of New South Wales, an emergency disaster plan has been activated in response to the threat of bioterrorism.

The Australian government says plans are in effect to handle any anthrax outbreak in the country. Officials are trying to calm fears after more than 50 suspected cases were reported Monday.

The first major scare occurred at Sydney airport, with the discovery of a mysterious white powder in a box of stationery. This was the first of a series of false alarms across the country.

Despite a growing number of anthrax exposures in the United States, there has yet to be one case confirmed in Australia. But officials in Canberra acknowledge that Australia has made itself a target by lining up with the United States in the war against suspected international terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Australia's postal system is taking major action, since one of the most likely ways to spread anthrax is through letters and packages. Australia Post spokesman, Stephen Walters, says its joined forces with customs to minimize possible danger from anthrax. "We ourselves have dangerous goods procedures and also procedures in place for identifying suspect articles," he explained. "So what we're doing is we've heightened awareness amongst staff, we've ensured that all staff are trained in those procedures and we are communicating with staff the experience of the U.S. Postal Service and taking every measure possible to ensure the safety of both our staff and our customers."

The leader of Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, has told Parliament the risk of terrorism was low but real. Bob Carr says 5,000 firefighters are trained to respond to a chemical attack and that local hospitals had thousands of doses of antidotes for treating reactions to chemicals as well as antibiotics to treat anthrax and other biological infections.