Primary care trusts are to set up anti-viral drug distribution centres and swine flu testing clinics amid fears that the infection could spread out of control.
The Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, wrote to health authorities last week urging hospitals to test all patients who show signs of flu-like symptoms. He wrote: “Transmission from person to person in this country is increasingly common. There is evidence that sporadic cases are arising with no apparent link either to cases elsewhere in the UK or to travel abroad.”
The letter followed an earlier warning from Sir Liam that millions of Britons could fall victim to swine flu in the coming months. Government officials admitted last night that illness rates from the virus could reach 50 per cent.
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Primary care trusts are now being briefed to expect that the pandemic could affect as much as 40 per cent of the workforce before the end of the year, with many worried that there could be a surge of cases in the autumn, according to health industry sources.
The Department of Health sought to reassure the public last night. A spokesman said: “Previous pandemics have seen total illness levels of 25-35 per cent. So our plans are as robust as possible, we have based them on illness rates of 50 per cent, though we do not anticipate it being this high in the current pandemic. Based on this figure, the workforce could be reduced by 15-20 per cent at the pandemic’s peak. In the unlikely event that every school closed, this could rise to 35 per cent.” He said it was impossible to predict when the pandemic would peak, but added: “As part of ongoing planning, the NHS is being asked to ensure that antiviral collection points could, if needed, be put into action in a week.”