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UK bird flu plans to be tested

BBC | April 5 2006

Comment: Is this one of those "simulations" akin to foot and mouth or mad cow disease? Those crazy kids at Porton Down.

Officials are putting bird flu plans to the test during a real-time simulation of an outbreak in Britain.

Hundreds of vets and farmers will also take part in Exercise Hawthorn, set three days into a hypothetical outbreak of avian influenza in poultry.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London will run it with control centres in Bury St Edmunds, Leeds, Cardiff and Gloucester.

The exercise will check safeguards are enough to prevent an epidemic.

Farm 'outbreak'

The exercise will involve the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Environment Agency, Downing Street, the Ministry of Defence, and other government departments.

Veterinary and farming groups are among the dozens of other organisations involved, as are groups from the shooting and pigeon-racing sectors.

Animal welfare charity the RSPCA, the EU, and foreign governments will also take part.

The exercise is based on a scenario in which a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu is found on a free-range poultry farm in Norfolk on day zero.

On day two, two other suspect cases are reported at a turkey farm in the north of England and at an egg production unit in south Wales on the English border.

The exercise begins on the third day, when initial reports on the first cases are due.

Participants are expected to perform tasks in line with plans while a handful of control teams change the scenario for them to react accordingly.

The two-day exercise will continue on Thursday.

Last October, a similar test focused on making sure the necessary IT facilities were in place.

"We mustn't be complacent," said Rural Affairs Minister Ben Bradshaw.

"We are on guard - that's why we're having this contingency exercise because you can't protect yourself 100% against it coming here, but you can make sure you've got a good plan in place to contain and eradicate it if it does."

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