WAR ON TERROR: SECURITY THREAT: FEARING THE WORST; Terror Cell Poison Training OAlert over Germ Attack ONHS Checks on Vaccines

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Byline: OONAGH BLACKMAN and MARK ELLIS, Foreign Editor

BRITAIN was last night speeding up preparations to combat the threat of chemical or biological attacks.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn has ordered an urgent review of contingency plans, Exercise Misty Scene, following a warning from the World Health Organisation.

He will visit the United States in the next two weeks for talks.

Mr Milburn has already asked the NHS to update emergency planning in areas such as vaccine stocks.

A source close to the minister said: "We are getting ready. It is clear that the nature of the threat is very real."

Last night it emerged that terror suspects in the USA had bought chemical transportation licences for as little as pounds 70.

And terrorists trained by Osama bin Laden in using poison gas are believed to be at large in America.

In Britain Mr Milburn has already chaired a series of meetings of the Contingency Planning Group at the Health Ministry in Whitehall with NHS Chief Executive Nigel Crisp.

But a former Cabinet Minister said there are concerns that the contingency plan needs to be strengthened.

The ex-minister said: "Tony Blair has been asking questions about this since the attack and there are concerns about some areas of contingency planning like stocks of vaccine.

"But heads are being knocked together and the procedures are being reviewed in the light of the heightened threat."

Downing Street urged the public not to panic over fears of a terrorist attack. But it warned people to be vigilant.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "There is no evidence of a specific threat to the UK.

"There is no reason why people should not carry out their normal day-to-day activities in the usual way."

Earlier, the World Health Organisation said it was essential the threat of chemical or biological attacks was not underestimated.

In a blueprint rushed out three months early, WHO said yesterday: "There is concern that the possibility of biological or chemical agents being deliberately released has not been given sufficient attention.

"For public health authorities the matter is one of relative priority. …