Greece on Red Alert
Over Bird Flu

Athens News

Athens admits the threat posed by a sweep. of the deadly bird flu strain across Turkey with a total ban on animal imports and the spraying of vehicles crossing the Greek-Turkish border

By Dimitris Yannopoulos

"Everything" humanly possible has been done to shield the country from the spread into its territory of the lethal bird flu strain that is spreading across Turkey, a sombre Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis assured the Greek people after an emergency cabinet meeting on January 11.

Greece, which shares both land and sea borders,with Turkey, was put on high alert by its public health and agriculture authorities as 18 Turks, including children, have reportedly been contaminated by the deadly H5Nl avian flu strain. "There should be no panic but full alert," Kaklamanis told reporters following the cabinet session.

An information poster at Athens International Airport
instructs passengers about the bird flu epidemic
on January 11. In Greece, 500 additional veterinary
staff were sent to border areas and state laboratories
are to speed up results on random bird tests, officals say

"The epidemiological developments in Turkey are not good. This is not worrying, at least presently, since in such epidemiological trends, the facts can change on a daily basis," he added. "We must not panic and we must not be complacent... We have implemented measures in full but we cannot set up borders in the sky," Kaklamanis warned, implying that there's virtually nothing that can stop migratory birds for carrying the pandemic into Greece.

The meeting was also attended by Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Agriculture Minister Evangelos Basiakos, whose ministries play a vital role in measures against bird flu.

Bird flu has been found in a third of Turkish provinces and has killed at least two children and infected 16 people. Some of the areas where birds have been infected are only a few nautical miles off Greek islands in the Aegean sea.

Border barriers

Greece which has so far had no confirmed cases of bird flu infection on its territory, imposed a ban on all animal produce imported from Turkey, while health officials are spraying vehicles entering the country through its northeastern border with Turkey on the Evros prefecture as a ''precautionary measure".

Greek islanders and tourists returning from day trips to Turkey on January 11 had to disinfect their shoes before entering customs control where health officers wearing masks and gloves checked their bags for possible food products. All animal produce found was being confiscated and destroyed

Many islanders take a short ferry trip to Turkey for their weekly shopping as prices are far lower than in Greece.

Kaldamanis said health officials were ordered to tour all points of entry into the country , including Athens international airport, the only airport with flights to Turkey, to ensure that preventive guidelines issued months ago were still being enforced.

The health ministry will also put up posters and distribute leaflets informing passengers travelling to countries where the bird flu virus has surfaced of ways of minimising the risk of infection. ''The measures are comprehensive but when we say 'we do whatever is humanly possible', we mean we cannot put borders in the sky above the Aegean," he said.

The economy and finance ministry's General Customs Department has issued a circular with instructions to all the country's customs authorities to strictly implement existing national and European Union directives regarding the import of products of animal origin from third countries, particularly of every type of birds and poultry. The ministry stressed the inspections should include those of commercial deliveries, of passengers' luggage as well as hand luggage.

Samos under watch

Crews of the agriculture ministry's veterinary service are making intensive inspections since the morning of January 10 on the border island of Samos in the eastern Aegean where daily ferry traffic to and from Turkey's nearby Aegean coast is particularly intense throughout the year. According to initial assessments, the island's inhabitants are abiding by government orders and guidelines on how to shelted their privately-owned poultry. Measures have also been taken at Samos Hospital where a quarantine chamber with all the necessary medical facilities has already been set up "for any eventuality" involving suspicious human symptoms.

However, due to the fact that the problem of illegal immigration is also intense in the eastern Aegean region, the merchant marine ministry and the Northern Aegean Prefecture have given orders that, when illegal immigrants are arrested in the region, for them to be led immediately to the nearest island hospital for thorough medical tests and decontamination.

Regional alert

Local officials participating in the Greek-Bulgarian-Turkish Network of Cross-Border Cooperation were meeting in Xanthi, northern Greece on January 12 in light of the bird flu outbreak in Turkey.

The aim of the meeting was to ensure that local authorities are prepared in terms of resources, have a plan in place and that cross-border cooperation is well coordinated in order to prevent any more cases of bird flu. "The meeting is considered urgent since prefectures of the three countries share common wetlands and the risk concems citizens of these regions," President of the network.and Xanthi Prefect Yiorgos Pavlidis said.

Attending the meeting were representatives from the prefectures of Evros, Rodopi, Xanthi, Drama, Kavalaand Serres - where most of Greece's Muslim minority resides - as well as local health and agriculture ministry officials and experts.

Pavlopoulos, meanwhile, presented a leaflet prepared by the interior ministry containing information on bird flu and precautions against it, which would start being distributed around the country as of January 11.

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