Bush: Bird Flu Is 'Global Threat'

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A flu pandemic would cause massive disruptions lasting for months, and cities, states and businesses must make plans now to keep functioning, and not count on a federal rescue, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

"Our nation will face this global threat united in purpose and united in action in order to best protect our families, our communities, our nation and our world from the threat of pandemic influenza," President Bush said in a letter to Americans noting the release of an updated national pandemic response strategy.

Mr. Bush last fall proposed a $7.1 billion plan to prepare for the next worldwide outbreak of a super-strain of influenza. Wednesday's report updates that plan, an incremental step that basically outlines exactly which government agency is responsible for some 300 tasks, many already under way.

As CBS News correspondent Bill Plante notes, the report is meant to catch the attention of the private sector, as well as government agencies.

Read the National Strategy For Pandemic Influenza
Even the most draconian steps, such as shutting down U.S. borders against outbreaks abroad, would almost certainly fail to keep a flu pandemic from spreading here, the report acknowledges, and thus it outlines more limited travel restrictions that would be used instead.

Influenza pandemics strike every few decades when a never-before-seen strain arises. It's impossible to predict when the next will occur, although concern is rising that the Asian bird flu, called the H5N1 strain, might lead to one if it starts spreading easily from person to person.

"I should make clear from the outset that we do know if the bird virus we are seeing overseas will ever become ... a pandemic," said Frances Townsend, Mr. Bush's White House homeland security adviser.

But if that happens, "we will take immediate action to prevent or to slow the spread of the infection," she added.

In related developments:

  • Spurred by concerns about bird flu, lawmakers voted Wednesday to block chicken processed in China from entering the United States. The prohibition is part of a $94 billion spending bill for food and agriculture programs that cleared a House subcommittee and now goes to the full Appropriations Committee. The Bush administration had said last month that it would allow poultry processed in China, so long as it comes from birds raised and slaughtered in the United States. Agriculture Department officials said the meat would be fully cooked and perfectly safe.
  • China has donated equipment and materials to help its impoverished ally North Korea prevent bird flu, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday. "The equipment and materials presented by the Chinese government this time will help prevent the spread of bird flu in the country via its border and trading ports," KCNA said. No details were given
  • Some Asian nations are on the right track in preparing to fight bird flu, but major gaps are still present in their plans, an expert said Wednesday. Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand have "comprehensive" national response plans to deal with an imminent outbreak of pandemic flu, a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Less prepared for a pandemic are China, Thailand and Vietnam, where there is a lack of plans to implement rapid containment measures, the study said.
  • A top bird flu expert on Tuesday predicted that the H5N1 virus will not reach the United States this year via migratory birds, but warned it will eventually arrive — possibly through infected birds smuggled into the country.
  • The World Health Organization said Tuesday it believes a bird flu pandemic can still be prevented if authorities are ready to implement rapid containment measures — from the large-scale distribution of anti-viral drugs to the closure of schools.