New research warns of Olympics flu pandemic risk

 

The millions of tourists coming to London for the Olympics will dramatically increase the risk that a flu pandemic in Britain might spread, according to new research to be published this week.

For Britain is ranked second in the world, after Singapore, in terms of the risk of an avian or swine flu outbreak spreading, according to a new study of more than 200 countries by the risk analysts Maplecroft.

Experts warn that the scale of the threat is vast. “There is little pre-existing natural immunity to H5N1 infection in the human population. Should the virus improve its transmissibility, the entire human population could be vulnerable to infection,” states the research - citing previous warnings from the World Health Organization.

Britain is at ‘medium risk’ of a pandemic emerging here where avian or swine flu jumps the species barrier and can be spread from person to person. South East Asia poses the highest risk in terms of the actual emergence of a strain of influenza, with countries such as Cambodia, China and Vietnam rated as ‘extreme risk’.

But factors such as crowded cities, a growing population, and the sheer amount of travel in and out of the UK provide ideal conditions for a virus to spread if it makes it to the UK.

In 2011, more than 69 million people used Heathrow Airport, while nearly 100,000 a day flew in and out of Gatwick.

During the Olympics, almost 800,000 people will use London’s public transport system each day.

Alyson Warhurst, chief executive of Maplecroft, said: “South East Asia is the region where an influenza pandemic is most likely to emerge. People travelling from these high risk countries for the London Olympic Games, have the potential to heighten the risks for the UK if an outbreak were to occur.”

She warned: “Such an influx of visitors exacerbates the already substantial risk of influenza spread in the country. It is therefore vital that the UK maintains its strong ability to manage outbreaks through strategic approaches, such as UK Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011.”

With plans already in place and well-developed health systems, Britain and other EU member states account for most of the 30 countries assessed as being ‘low risk’ in terms of not being able to cope with an outbreak.

The government’s strategy, released last November, warns that the “collective efforts of society” will need to be mobilised to deal with an influenza pandemic, something it describes as “one of the greatest threats facing the UK.”

It outlines how modern travel “affords opportunities for the virus to be rapidly spread across the world, even before it has been identified” and that the time needed to develop a vaccine means “it almost certainly will not be possible to contain or eradicate a new virus in its country of origin or on arrival in the UK.”

Health officials are already on high alert in the run-up to the Olympics, with the Health Protection Agency having increased its surveillance work to detect any signs of a virus. It has set up a monitoring system of hospital admissions and concerns raised with GPs, to alert staff to the first signs of mass contagion.

More than 330 people have died worldwide since bird flu was first detected in 2003. At its peak in 2006 it was present in 63 countries and there were 4,000 outbreaks of the disease in wild birds and poultry. Measures to halt the spread included mass culls on farms where infections were found or suspected. Some 400 million domestic poultry were slaughtered. The most high-profile case in Britain was that of a Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Holton, Suffolk, where 160,000 turkey chicks were gassed in 2007 to prevent the virus spreading any further.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
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
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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

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'