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Flu doctors to be given police guards

London Times/Stewart Tendler | November 3 2005

POLICE guards will be placed on doctors’ surgeries and NHS clinics in the event of a flu pandemic to stop panicking crowds from trying to get their hands on antiviral drugs.

Under new contingency plans, officers will also be deployed to patrol “quarantine zones” to prevent the spread of flu infections from urban hot spots. Other units will be on standby to prevent disorder if large public events, such as football matches and concerts, have to be cancelled at short notice, or mass transport systems are shut down.

The plans are outlined in a report drawn up by a senior planner for the Metropolitan Police Authority. Other forces throughout the United Kingdom have also been told to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic in the next few years.

The paper, written by Chief Superintendent Simon Lewis, a resilience planner at Scotland Yard, reveals for the first time some of the drastic measures that would be needed to prevent mass panic and the spread of infectioun.

Current estimates from Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, say that the national death toll from a flu pandemic could reach 50,000. It is believed that a particularly virulent strain could kill as many as 750,000 people.

In his report, Mr Lewis says: “During previous pandemics, up to 25 per cent of the population became ill. Being prepared will be key to minimising the impact on people’s lives and business continuity.”

Spelling out how the emergency would be run, Mr Lewis says that the Department of Health will be in overall charge, working with teams from the emergency services, local authorities and other agencies.

In London, as a pandemic emerges, a regional civil contingencies committee headed by the Minister for London Resilience, currently Phil Woolas, will spearhead efforts to keep people working.

Mr Lewis says: “It is possible, during a flu pandemic, that the Department of Health may advise the cancellation of large public events and travelling on some forms of public transport. This may prompt outbursts of public disorder.

“Police may also be called upon to secure pharmaceutical outlets and NHS premises as the public attempt to obtain stocks of antiviral drugs. Quarantine zones may also need to be enforced,” he says.

The casualties from a flu pandemic would also increase work for police with “a requirement for officers to report an increased number of sudden deaths”. Faced with these demands, plus the problem of police officers falling sick, forces would invoke emergency mobilisation programmes similar to those that followed the bomb attacks in July.

Mr Lewis said yesterday that much of his report was common sense, based on assumptions and second-guessing on what could happen. “All police forces will have emergency plans and business continuity plans and this was response to a request from the Metropolitan Police Authority for reassurance,” he said.

Police could, for example, find themselves dealing with reductions on the London Underground system or the closure of the whole network. This might lead to public frustration and anger.

Mr Lewis said extra police would be needed on the streets to handle crowds and increased traffic as workers looked for ways to get to their offices, shops or factories.

He said that forces would have to make decisions about reducing some routine police work to concentrate on maintaining law and order. In London after the bombing incidents, hundreds of officers were moved from their normal work to join investigations or security patrols.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: “The police service has a responsibility under the Civil Contingencies Act to produce business continuity plans in every force to ensure that service to the public can be maintained when faced with a major event such as a flu pandemic.”

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