Governments around the world are today on high alert for a possible swine flu pandemic as the death toll from the virus in Mexico rose to more than 100 and possible cases were reported as far afield as Israel, New Zealand and Scotland.
A declaration at the weekend by the World Health Organisation of an international public health emergency was followed by a call for worldwide surveillance of the spread of the virus. The European commission today called for an emergency meeting of Europe’s health ministers “as soon as possible”.
The illness has rapidly claimed 103 lives, confined hundreds of people to hospital, and brought Mexico City, one of the world’s largest cities, to a near standstill.
Fears of a potential pandemic have spooked financial markets worldwide, with airline and tourism stocks plunging today, the dollar dropping to its lowest level against the yuan, and the Mexican peso losing about 3% in electronic trading last night. Oil prices also fell. In London, the FTSE 100 index lost more than 60 points in early trading, falling about 1.5% to 4095.06.
But shares soared in drug companies, including GlaxoSmithKline and medical glovemakers. Shares of Top Glove, the world’s largest listed rubber latex glovemaker, jumped more than 8% to 5.95 ringgit on the Malaysian stock exchange.
The Czech government, which currently holds the EU presidency, will be asked to organise the gathering of European health ministers.
“The timing is up to the Czech presidency, but we are asking for this meeting to happen as soon as possible,” a spokeswoman for the EU health commissioner Androula Vassiliou said.