Hotline Deluged in Bird Flu Alert

The Journal (Newcastle, England), April 8, 2006 | Go to article overview

Hotline Deluged in Bird Flu Alert


Byline: By Daniel Thomson

A bird flu hotline was deluged with calls yesterday after it emerged three dead birds from the North-East were being tested for the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease.

Tests on nine birds being checked for avian flu in Scotland have proved negative, the Scottish Executive said last night.

But a spokeswoman was unable to say if the total number of birds being tested was still 14, or if that number had increased or diminished since Thursday.

The Department for Food and Rural Affairs said it had contingency plans to cope with any major outbreak but refused to comment on the two swans from Linton, Northumberland, and a bird from Sedgefield, County Durham, which have been taken away for tests.

Their stance has been challenged by a North MP who called on the Government agency to give more detailed information about how it would prevent a large-scale epidemic.

Since the discovery of a dead swan infected with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in Fife, Scotland, Defra have been testing hundreds of birds for the disease ( at a single national testing laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey.

The agency has also set up a national telephone line manned by 44 staff, which has dealt with more than 4,272 calls in the last 48 hours. But Defra is under fire for failing to fully outline the resources it has available or the steps it would take if the outbreak were to escalate.

Berwick Liberal Democrat Alan Beith MP said: "Defra did not handle the foot-and-mouth epidemic well and it is vitally important they give people prompt, accurate and detailed information as soon as it's available.

"People need to be reassured that Defra are capable of containing this disease or handling any spread of it.

"Defra needs to be as transparent as possible without creating a panic. Poultry farmers, in particular, need as much information as possible."

This view was echoed by farmers in the North-East who say they fear Defra could be overwhelmed by an outbreak ( as it was during the foot-and-mouth crisis in 2001. …

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