Stockpile food, but don't panic
Kate Benson and Marissa Calligeros
May 1, 2009 - 9:14AM
AUSTRALIANS have been advised to stockpile food and water after the World Health Organisation raised its swine flu alert to phase five yesterday, indicating an imminent pandemic.
The Federal Government's pandemic plan, a 132-page manual issued to medics, media and the public, insists that once the world reaches phase five, Australians should stock their pantries with food and bottled water to last 14 days, check on elderly neighbours and put emergency numbers by the phone.
But yesterday a spokesman for the Department of Health and Ageing called for calm, saying the Government did not want to spark panic buying - ignoring its own plan, already issued to hospitals across the nation.
"I agree that is it confusing," the spokesman said, admitting he had not read the pandemic plan despite being employed to answer questions about it from national media. "The manual may say people should be preparing but we don't want a run at the shops," he said.
Queensland's chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, stressed there were no confirmed cases of swine flu, but said residents should stock up now on tinned food and frozen vegetables.
"It's really just sensible advice about being prepared if you are sick and at home and staying in isolation, that you've got food there so that you don't need to go out and shop,'' she told ABC Radio.
"Some people shop every day or every few days.
"If we can try and reduce the number of people circulating in the community, then we can reduce the spread of this virus if it comes into Australia.''
She said people would be asked to keep a distance of one metre away from others if the virus reached here.
The number of suspected swine flu cases in Queensland has dropped to nine, health authorities say.
Police yesterday joined a search for two people who travelled on a flight alongside infected schoolchildren from New Zealand, but they have since been found and have undergone testing.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said a Queensland man who contracted a flu-like illness while travelling through swine flu-ravaged Mexico recently had also come forward.
While he had recovered, blood tests showed he had caught Influenza A - the parent virus to swine flu.
"He was swabbed and because he was no longer experiencing symptoms, a blood sample was also taken to allow extra testing," Dr Young said.
"The swab, as expected, was negative for Influenza A, but the blood test showed suspected Influenza A.
"This means he may have had this virus at some stage in the past. To be clear, this case does not meet the nationally agreed definition of swine flu."
The news comes as swine flu screening begins on all international travellers arriving at Brisbane Airport using thermal imaging scanners.
Dr Young has confirmed five people who travelled on a connecting flight to Australia from Los Angeles to New Zealand alongside several schoolchildren with swine flu had been cleared of the disease.
The tests on the remaining two people aboard the flight from Los Angeles to Auckland are expected today.
Health authorities are investigating 21 potential cases Australia-wide.
Dr Young met with a group of general practitioners, pharmacists and Brisbane City Council representatives yesterday afternoon to discuss preparations for an outbreak of swine flu.
"We are also seeking further advice from the Commonwealth today as to the need for any further action."
- with AAP