Byline: Andrew Pugh
EMERGENCY services yesterday prepared for some of the worst excesses of a future flu pandemic, which experts predict could lead to thousands of deaths, civil unrest and economic collapse.
All four Welsh police forces were represented at the mock exercise in South Wales, codenamed "Exercise Taliesin", together with other 999 crews and representatives from the military, NHS, local authorities and the National Assembly.
They were joined by organisations as diverse as the Red Cross and the Environment Agency although, in the event of an outbreak, the response would be overseen by leading police officers.
"A flu pandemic is a world threat and we have to put plans in place to how we would respond," said South Wales Police Chief Superintendent Cliff Filer.
"Exercise Taliesin is not just about testing our plan but refining it too. The UK commands great respect internationally for our state of preparation. Many other countries are visiting us to see how it's done. It's a threat we take very seriously." Speaking at the event at South Wales Police's Bridgend HQ he added: "We don't want people to be worried by this exercise - they should be reassured." The most obvious impact of a flu pandemic would be the effect on the NHS, which would quickly be pushed to breaking point.
Staff sickness, the pressure for beds and managing the distribution of vaccines would all contribute to the growing crisis, but the health impacts would be only the beginning.
Reports compiled by local authorities across the UK also warn of shortages of food, water, fuel, and electricity, the possible collapse of telecommunications and the risk to public safety, as the crisis causes huge disruption to most aspects of normal life.
A flu pandemic is a global threat and occurs when a new and highly-infectious strain of the influenza virus appears, a situation that can occur at any time.
There is seemingly no pattern to the cycle of pandemics, with intervals between the most recent pandemics varying from around 10 to 40 years. Unlike the "ordinary" flu outbreaks we see every winter in the UK, flu pandemics occur very rarely, with only three in the 20th century.
One of the biggest threats is H5N1, otherwise known as "avian" or "bird" flu..
Though there is no evidence of airborne transmission, there …