14 October, 2005
The Greek government intends to seek the convening of a meeting of the Black Sea health ministers in early November in order to draw up a common action plan to confront the threat posed by avian influenza (bird flu) virus, health minister Nikitas Kaklamanis announced on Thursday after a meeting at government headquarters with prime minister Costas Karamanlis and agricultural development minister Evangelos Bassiakos.
Kaklamanis told waiting reporters after the meeting that Karamanlis as well as the country's foreign minister Petros Molyviatis had approved his relevant proposal.
He noted that, due to the country's geopolitical position, the Balkan and Black Sea regions comprised gateways for migratory birds (which, like poultry, are carriers and can spread the virus), and consequently "we are interested in developing a joint action plan".
The minister said that the recent meeting in Istanbul, which was attended by Black Sea countries, had discussed the problem, but noted that "some countries are taken measures, but others aren't".
Kaklamanis announced that the contract for the purchase of the medicine that confronts the problem had been signed by Greece earlier on Thursday. He explained that the Perseus emergency action plan contained a specific chapter on epidemics that outlined steps for confronting such situations and the specialized training of personnel and health personnel.
The minister also explained that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the bird flu outbreak was expected to develop into an epidemic, but not a pandemic. He added, however, that "we cannot know when (the epidemic proportions would be reached) and the severity of the epidemic".
Kaklamanis further warned that the flu vaccine did not cover avian flu. He said that all those who do have the vaccine done -- referring to high-risk groups for other types of flu -- should continue with vaccinations, but added that the vaccine did not provide protection to other population groups against bird flu.
The minister said there was no need for panic, but "neither should we be complacent, as we must be prepared, on the basis of the plan, and purchase the medicine and train specialized personnel".
Bassiakos told reporters that all the necessary measures have been taken in Greece, and that inspections and laboratory testing were continuously taking place, adding that "there has been no trace" of avian flu in Greece.
He further said that the European Commission was due to formally announce later Thursday new measures prohibiting imports from Romania.
The Commission earlier this week banned poultry imports from Turkey.
Everything was progressing normally in Greece, Bassiakos said, adding that all the necessary actions were being taken without any problems arising.
Bassiakos also said that the EU Council of Farm Ministers would bring up the issue of repercussions for farmers -- as a result of the action plan being implemented on the bird flu threat -- if such problems arose.
Gov't: No instances of bird flu in Greece: The Greek government on Thursday reiterated that it has taken preventative measures against the import of poultry from both Romania and Turkey prior to EU-wide action.
Furthermore, Deputy Agriculture Minister Alexandros Kontos told Parliament that absolutely no instance of bird flu has been detected in the country.
His comments came hours before the European Union announced that the bird flu virus -- H5N1 -- was detected in Turkish poultry, the strain that scientists worry may mutate into a human virus and spark a flu outbreak.
"We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is avian flu H5N1 virus," EU Health Commissioner from Cyprus Markos Kyprianou said from Brussels.
In a related development, Bulgarian officials on Thursday said they would consider the establishment of a special emergency council in the event that bird flu was detected in neighboring Romania.
Bulgaria has also banned, since Monday, the import of live poultry, meat or eggs from Romania and Turkey.
Source: Athens News Agency