BRISBANE, Australia, Oct 31 (BSS/AFP) - International health officials met Tuesday to discuss the nightmare scenario of a full-scale bird flu pandemic threatening millions of lives in the Asia-Pacific region.
Experts from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, Pacific island nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) discussed how governments would react if bird flu mutated into a form that was easily transmitted between humans.
A senior Australian official at the conference, who declined to be named, said delegates discussed the possibility of countries sealing their borders as a way of preventing the spread of a pandemic.
He said the officials also looked at ways they could prevent international trade grinding to a halt if a pandemic occurred.
"We're talking about how economies will deal with this issue, how they'll keep the water running, the sewerage working..." he told reporters.
"If it's a fully-blown pandemic then the results for the region, for the world, could be quite catastrophic as far as movement of people, movement of goods, the ongoing commerce and the ongoing operations of communities go."
The official said the experts were considering staging a mock outbreak of human-to-human bird flu to test the effectiveness of emergency planning.
"Not so much testing domestic plans but testing regional coordination, so if there is an outbreak here, how could the region respond?" he said.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said it was the first time disaster management experts from the 21 APEC economies had been able to meet and compare notes on managing bird flu.
"It's an opportunity for us to look at what preparations we've made and then improve those if we have to and perhaps set up some region-wide, APEC- wide response mechanism if that's really called for," Downer told commercial television.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 60 people in Asia since late 2003 and experts fear disaster could strike if it becomes readily contagious through human-to-human contact.