Wednesday, July 12, 2006


(lost the link to the original version of this story, but will add it when found)

Mounting fears of an avian flu outbreak amongst humans has caused Australian businesses to stockpile anti-viral drugs and face masks and make definitive plans for how they will continue to operate when almost half of their workers may be off work, either ill or looking after someone who is.

Pandemic risk committees already exist within major companies such as Bluescope Steel and Telstra while the Commonwealth Bank has appointed a pandemic planning project manager.

Expanded computer networks to enable staff to work from home in the event of an outbreak have been included in the preparations against bird flu.

Through its relationship with medical support agency International SOS, BHP Billiton, has stockpiles of anti-viral drugs in regional offices considered at high risk.

The Bank of Queensland has proposed to implement basic hygiene education for staff. According to immunologists this measure would help to reduce the spread of disease if a pandemic develops.

Small businesses, such as the Tangalooma Resort on Moreton Island, have stockpiled 1000 masks and have evacuation plans in place if a pandemic strikes.

Businesses have been advised to plan for up to half their staff being absent due to illness, or caring for sick family members or children because of school being closed. As immunologist Ron Penny said," There's no strong recommendation that people who have a seriously infectious disease should stay at home.I think we need to educate people".

Federal Government advisers have warn that economically, Queensland would be the hardest hit of any Australian state with even a modest level pandemic causing a loss of about $11 billion, off the Gross State Product (GSP) in the first year alone.

International health experts predict bird flu has a 10 per cent chance of turning into a pandemic this financial year.

According to Telstra's network services managing director Michael Lawrey preparations for the likelihood of a pandemic were slightly higher in intensity than planning for other business risks such as fires, cyclones and floods.

Sydney-based company Good Health Solutions has estimated the cost of protecting a staff of 1000 against the possibility of a bird flu pandemic at about $92,000.

Businesses such as big retailers would probably be required to spend several millions if they decided to stockpile enough face masks and other protective gear to protect staff for three months.

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