It says the outbreak of a new influenza pandemic is “one of the greatest threats facing the UK” as it could not be stopped from spreading and vaccines would take months to develop.
However the report also points out that the wave of swine flu that spread from Mexico two years ago was “very mild” in comparison with previous pandemics, although the public wrongly believed that the “worst-case scenario” was likely to take hold.
The UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011 is the first update to official advice since the H1N1 virus killed “significantly less than one million” people in 2009. In Britain, 457 people died from the pandemic flu strain between June 200 and March 2010.
By contrast, the 1918-19 “Spanish Flu” outbreak killed up to 50million while the “Asian Flu” pandemic of 1957-58 and the “Hong Kong flu” a decade later each killed up to 4million.
But the report says the authorities in Britain must remain prepared for another pandemic, and based on the “reasonable worst case" assessment, “up to 50% of the population could experience symptoms of pandemic influenza during a single pandemic wave lasting 15 weeks, although the nature and severity of the symptoms would vary from person to person.”
Although the number of extra deaths is “impossible to predict”, it says: “Local authorities in conjunction with local service providers should ensure that they have plans in place to surge their capacity to cope with an increase in burials and cremations during a pandemic (for up to 200,000).” (read more)