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EU health ministers fail to agree on travel ban to Mexico over swine flu
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15:27, May 01, 2009

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Health ministers from 27 European Union nations failed to agree to impose a travel ban to Mexico on Thursday amid outbreak of swine flu, stressing the need for the coordination and cooperation to stop the spread of the flu and ways of treatment.

Some countries, including the Netherlands and Britain, backed a French call to temporarily ban all EU flights to Mexico, while others such as Spain, Germany, Austria and Denmark are against it.

France urged the EU to suspend all flights to Mexico, the "zero ground" of swine flu where the deadly virus was believed to have killed more than 170 people and sickened over 2,500 others.

But the EU ministers didn't agree at the meeting on the proposal, nor did they issue any travel warning against Mexico, as most of the countries have doubted the effectiveness of such a ban in containing the further spread of the flu.

"In Spain, we consider that it is not a useful step for the time being. From a technical point of view, it is absolutely not useful," said Spanish Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez. "We have to wait and see what is the evolution of the disease before taking such a drastic measure."

"If you believe you can achieve anything by banning flights to or from Mexico to Germany, you underestimate that in the mobile world, people also go to Venezuela -- or they fly in over the United States," echoed German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt. "A flight ban would have to go much further."

Asked whether France would impose its own flight ban against Mexico at a press conference after the meeting, Czech Health Minister Daniela Filipiova said that she did not see the possibility that France would adopt such a "radical approach."

She stressed that "any (EU) reaction" to the disease "will continue to be a common one" and any actions taken among the 27 member nations "should be in a coordinated manner."

Aside from internal coordination, the ministers also called for cooperation at the international level.

The World Health Organization raised its flu alert level from four to five, making countries like Italy and Germany realize the need to stockpile antiviral drugs or develop vaccines to fight the swine flu strain.

The ministers agreed to cooperate "without delay" with the pharmaceutical sector to develop a pilot vaccine to treat swine flu and to step up sharing health information concerning the treatment and prevention measures of the disease.

They decided to establish a special expert committee that will meet regularly to coordinate national measures in fighting the flu.

The ministers voiced their solidarity with the most affected countries and declared their readiness to examine together with the European Commission, the EU's executive, and in cooperation with the authorities of these third countries, the possible ways and means to provide assistance in the fight against this outbreak.

And they agreed that any such assistance would be coordinated the European Commission and the governments of the countries concerned.

So far, the EU confirmed 26 case of the flu, which the European Commission defined it as the novel influenza virus, with Spain topping the list with 13, followed by Britain with eight, Germany three, Austria and the Netherlands one each. Non-EU nation Switzerland reported one case early on Thursday.

Source: Xinhua

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