The World Heath Organisation (WHO) has raised its influenza pandemic alert to phase 4 in its six-phase approach from phase 3, in response to confirmed outbreaks of A/H1N1 swine influenza in the US, Mexico, Canada, and parts of Europe.
WHO said the change to a higher phase of pandemic alert indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable.
Phase 4 is characterised by verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza virus, able to cause community-level outbreaks.
As of April 27, the US government had reported 40 laboratory confirmed human cases of the flu. Mexico had reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection, including seven deaths. Canada had reported six cases, and Spain had reported one case. Two further cases were also confirmed in Airdrie, Scotland. So far, nobody has died from the disease outside of Mexico.
Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, said yesterday (April 27) that containment of the virus is not feasible. Instead, Chan said the focus should be on mitigation measures. However, she recommended not to close borders and not to restrict international travel.
Commenting on the swine flu outbreak, Alex Hindson, head of enterprise risk management at Aon Global Risk Consulting, said: "Health risks are unpredictable but given the possibility of a swine fever pandemic developing, organisations need to carefully review their business continuity management arrangements to protect their employees - an organisation's critical assets - and ensure they have considered the potential for staff absence. Media pressure is likely to make people think very carefully before travelling on busy public transport systems and organisations could find themselves without key staff for protracted periods, whether ill, looking after relatives or merely being cautious.
"Timing is everything for businesses. Given the financial crisis impacting businesses' operations, having a robust continuity plan in place could be the make or break for companies responding to both issues simultaneously and surviving intact. Confidence in business is currently very brittle. If your stakeholders, be they employees, customers, business partners, shareholders or insurers do not believe you are well prepared and resilient, they make take their activity elsewhere."