EU health ministers hold emergency swine flu talks
The European Union's health ministers were Thursday holding emergency talks in Luxembourg on how to deal with the outbreak of swine flu in a number of member states, including possible travel restrictions to Mexico, dpa reported.
"We will ask our European colleagues to consider the suspension of flights going to Mexico," French health minister Roselyne Bachelot said Wednesday after talks in Paris with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
National governments have so far sent out mixed messages on whether to stop flights to and from Mexico and other hot spots, with officials in several countries, including France, Italy and Britain, advising citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to the Latin American country.
Officials in Brussels said the meeting in Luxembourg would seek to draw up shared guidelines and coordinated action on how best to prevent the virus from further spreading in Europe.
"The main issues being discussed are common definitions of the virus, advice to travellers, and how to best deploy medical measures," said Michael Mann, a spokesman at the European Commission in Brussels.
As of Thursday morning, a total of 19 confirmed cases had been reported in the EU - 10 in Spain, 5 in Britain, 3 in Germany and one in Austria.
All but one of these involve people having recently travelled to Mexico, where scores of deaths have been blamed on the virus.
Androulla Vassiliou, the EU's health commissioner, however stressed that the bloc was well prepared to deal with the outbreak, having learned "valuable lessons from past experiences with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and avian influenza."
"I am convinced that we are in a better position today to protect the health of EU citizens from health threats such as this novel flu virus," Vassiliou said.
Another likely issue up for discussion in Luxembourg involved the possible pooling of anti-viral stockpiles currently held by individual member states.
National government have in the past resisted calls for their stockpiles of medicines to be shared at EU level, and they are still reluctant to provide information about their reserves.
Officials in Brussels also dismissed alarming reports suggesting that swine flu could cause tens of thousands of deaths in Europe.
The German tabloid Bild on Thursday printed quotes to this effect reportedly made by a top EU health official, Robert Madelin.
However, officials in Brussels stressed that Madelin's quotes had been taken out of context. They further noted that some 25,000 people regularly die of flu-related causes in Europe each year.
The officials also said the EU does not yet have any estimates on the number of possible casualties deriving from swine flu.