Luxembourg: France pushed for a ban on flights to Mexico and Italy urged Europe to stockpile vaccines as EU health ministers prepared for an emergency meeting on the spread of the deadly swine flu.
The ministers were to consider the French and Italian plans at a meeting in Luxembourg among other joint European measures to ward off the flu as the World Health Organisation warned of an imminent pandemic.
On the eve of the meeting, French health minister Roselyne Bachelot said she would ask her EU counterparts to look into suspending “outbound flights to Mexico.”
She said that flights from Mexico would not be stopped so that people at risk would not be tempted to find another route home and thus escape the scrutiny to which passengers arriving from the danger zone are subject.
However, the proposal found little support from EU transport ministers who were meeting on Wednesday near Prague and draft conclusions for the meeting gave no specific travel advice.
Some nations feel that with the deadly virus already confirmed in four EU nations it is too late to shut that stable door.
Italy called on its EU partners to consider “setting up a strategic stockpile of antivirals and vaccines,” according to preparatory document for the meeting obtained by AFP.
Rome also urged EU health ministers to consider “a joint programme of management and purchasing of these products through the establishment of an ad hoc group of national experts.”
The hastily arranged meeting in Luxembourg comes as a growing number of European countries announce swine flu.
Non-EU member Switzerland became the fifth European country early Thursday to confirm the presence of the virus, after a male patient who was given the all-clear following a trip to Mexico subsequently tested positive.
On Wednesday, Germany announced three cases, while Austria said a 28-year-old woman had tested positive. Suspected infections were also being monitored in about 10 other countries across the continent.
In Spain the number of cases went from two to 10 within hours -- with particular concern over the first case not directly linked to Mexico, where the global scare started.
In Britain a 12-year old girl was among three new cases of swine flu confirmed Wednesday, bringing the total there to five.
The health ministers were also to consider how quickly a vaccine could be developed although experts warn that that could be months away.
Ahead of the meeting, EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou met with officials from major vaccine makers such as Baxter, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi Pasteur and Novartis Vaccines.
The WHO said earlier this week that there were four laboratories worldwide with work at different stages of development on vaccines.
“It would take about six months to get an appropriate vaccine,” one expert at the European Commission said. “However, the work can’t really get underway while the virus is still evolving and there is not enough information available about Mexico.”
Draft conclusions for the meeting urged EU governments “to closely cooperate together, and with the pharmaceutical industry, in facilitating the development of a pilot vaccine covering the A/H1N1 virus in the shortest possible delay.”