Scientists' warning on biological weapons

The threat of a terrorist attack using biological weapons is serious enough for Britain to begin simulation exercises to ensure that its emergency services can counter the dangers, an expert committee has concluded.

The threat of a terrorist attack using biological weapons is serious enough for Britain to begin simulation exercises to ensure that its emergency services can counter the dangers, an expert committee has concluded.

A Royal Society working group of scientists whose expertise covers micro-organisms and public health has found that ignoring the threat of a biological weapons attack by terrorists would be irresponsible.

The scientists have calledfor carefully planned counter -measures with key medical staff being trained to recognise pathogenic micro-organisms, such as bubonic plague, which they would not normally come across in this country, says the working group's report, published yesterday.

The Government should amass stockpiles of vaccines and other material needed as counter-measures and an action plan is needed to reduce public panic by providing reliable information to the media. "Mercifully, the scale of effectiveness of biological weapons [BW] against human populations in war and by terrorist attack has not been proven in practice," the report says. "While it would be irresponsible to be complacent about the possible effects of BW, it would also seem prudent not to overestimate them."

The committee, chaired by Harry Smith, emeritus professor of microbiology at Birming-ham University, recommends the establishment of a panel of scientists drawn from government and the independent sector, who can provide accurate and balanced information on the changing risks of a BW attack.

"Collaboration plans should be set up between the police, public health authorities, the clinical and hospital services, the intelligence agencies and the military. The authorities who would co-ordinate the local and national responses should be made clear. These plans should be tested in simulated attacks," the report says.

Sir Joseph Smith, former director of the Government's Public Health Laboratory Service and a member of the working group, said the existing system for dealing with natural outbreaks of infectious disease should be strengthened to cope with any BW threat.

"Plans should be based on the present arrangements for dealing with naturally occurring outbreaks of infection, and key medical and laboratory staff should be trained to recognise the diseases that would be caused by biological weapons," Sir Joseph said. "The advantages of a biological weapons attack for terrorists is that it frightens people. We are regrettably used to explosions. Biological weapons are easy to use covertly and you can grow simple germs on a kitchen scale."

The Royal Society, which began its investigation into biological weapons more than a year ago, said Britain and other countries should seek to tighten the international 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which outlaws the development, testing, manufacture and stockpiling of biological weapons by governments. Negotiations will begin in Geneva on Monday with the aim of improving the Convention's verification procedures.

Professor Harry Smith said that although biological weap-ons were potentially a serious threat, it would be counterproductive to exaggerate the danger. "Observations from natural infectious disease indicate that biological weapons are unlikely to have as devastating an effect on human populations as nuclear weapons," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
tech
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'