WORLD ALERT ON AIR GERMS ATTACK; Health Chiefs' Warning
Byline: ANNIE BROWN
WORLD health chiefs yesterday warned governments to be ready for chemical or biological attacks by terrorists.
The UN's World Health Organisation called on authorities across the globe to speed up their contingency plans in the wake of the terror attacks on the US.
America has already grounded crop-dusting planes because of fears they might be used by terrorists to spread chemical or biological agents.
Now the WHO has released an emergency draft report of its technical guide, Health Aspects of Biological and Chemical Weapons, to health ministries around the world. It was not due to be released until later in the year.
WHO executive director Dr David Nabarro said yesterday: "We hope that we are not being alarmist.
"Several countries have contacted the WHO over the last few days just wanting to reassure themselves about the kind of precautions they need to take in case there was any kind of deliberate use of biological agents.
"We think it is prudent to respond to make sure they get the information they need to plan in case such a terrible thing was to happen."
A Cabinet Office spokesman said yesterday: "Gathering all the intelligence we have, there is no indication of a specific threat against the UK. There is a need to remain vigilant but some of what has been said has been very alarmist."
He said that in the event of an attack local authorities would be directed by Government to notify people of the necessary action they must take.
But as the report was released, Scots were continuing their mad scramble to buy gas masks as fears of a gas attack grew.
Army surplus stores in Edinburgh had completely sold out of the masks.
Barry Martin at Leith Army Stores said: "I had between 50 and 60 calls on Monday but on Tuesday the phone never stopped ringing. There must have been around 100 calls in the morning alone.
"We had just two British Army ST10 respirators which are the genuine article. They were reconditioned with new filters and we sold them for between pounds 20 and pounds 25.
"There isn't usually much demand for respirators. The people who want them are either militaria collectors or people who want them for stage props or fancy dress. One or two people apparently want them for the bedroom."
But Barry said people weren't thinking clearly about the threat.
He said: "A gas mask would only provide protection in combination with a proper Noddy suit, an NBC - nuclear, biological and chemical protective suit - and if someone had the proper training in how to use the equipment.
"It doesn't matter. People just want the masks because it makes them feel better. The fact that nerve agents work through the skin doesn't bother them."
He has also had enquiries for the NBC suits but most shops don't supply them.
Frontline Surplus in Dundee has had 30 calls in the past few days about masks.
A sales assistant said: "We have only had about five in the past 10 years. …