With the H1N1 virus boosted today from a level five pandemic alert to a level six – out of a possible six levels – by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness (CCEP) is urging communities and companies to exercise caution as they prepare for the full-scale pandemic.
“In many respects, we have already been at level six for several weeks and the severity of the virus hasn't increased, so people shouldn't be unnecessarily alarmed,” said Adrian Gordon, President of CCEP, co-organizers of the World Conference on Disaster Management, which will take place in Toronto from June 21 to 24, with a major focus on pandemic planning. “Still, communities and organizations should understand the implications and prepare themselves, particularly when it comes to travel.”
The U.N. Health Agency has announced that the incidence of H1N1 flu increased to 27,700 cases in 74 countries. This includes a growing outbreak in Australia, where more than 1,000 cases have been identified in the state of Victoria alone. Most incidents have been mild and so far only 141 total deaths have been reported worldwide.
The criteria for phase 6, which signals a full, global pandemic, includes sustained human-to-human transmission of the disease in at least two countries as well as community-level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different region of the world (in this case, the identified countries are Mexico, the U.S. and now, Australia).
Recognizing that many organizations use the WHO alert levels as a trigger to execute their pandemic plans, including automatic travel restrictions, Gordon cautioned that they should not immediately execute their plans or restrict travel by their employees now that the level six alert has been announced.
“We strongly advise communities and organizations to adopt a wait-and-see policy and act on advice from their local health authorities as well as their provincial or territorial ministries of health and the Public Health Agency of Canada,” he said. “At the same time, any community or organization that does not have a pandemic plan in place is strongly advised to do so without delay.”
While CCEP encourages continued travel unless notified otherwise by local authorities, those who do so are still urged to take precautions when travelling. For example, CCEP suggests:
• Washing hands frequently and carrying a hand sanitizer at all times;
• Coughing and sneezing into a sleeve or tissue;
• Avoiding unnecessary contact, such as shaking hands;
• Avoiding travel if you feel sick or think you might be sick.
The upcoming World Conference on Disaster Management (www.wcdm.org) will address these and many other aspects of planning for a flu pandemic through its many sessions presented by leading Canadian and International speakers.