Saturday, August 9, 2008

Flu poses greater risk than terrorism | Weird Facts

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A flu pandemic poses greater threat to Britain than terrorism, government risk assessment to warn

National Risk Register illustration of the "high consequence risks" facing the UK

Hundreds of thousands of Britons living abroad would return to the UK if there were a worldwide flu pandemic, the government suggests today.

A Cabinet Office report, which identifies a global flu pandemic as the most serious threat facing Britain, says that officials are drawing up plans that would help them cope if some of the 12 million Britons living abroad were to return home to increase their chances of surviving in the event of a worldwide emergency.

The report, the "national risk register", lists all the most significant risks facing Britain over the next five years. The government has published the information in this form for the first time to help organisations and individuals take appropriate precautions.

Gordon Brown promised that the register would be published when he unveiled his national security strategy earlier this year.

The register does not rank the risks it mentions in order of seriousness. But a chart showing risks according to the relative likelihood of them happening and the relative impact they would have suggests that a flu pandemic scores highest when impact and likelihood are both taken into account.

However, the chart does not include the threat posed by terrorists using a nuclear device because there is no historical precedent for this kind of attack.

The report says that flu pandemics occurred three times in the 20th century and that experts agree that there is a "high probability" of another occurring.

The World Health Organisation estimates that between 2 million and 7.4 million people would die globally.

Within the UK, up to half of the population could become infected and between 50,000 and 750,000 people could die as a result, the report said.

"Normal life is likely to face wider social and economic disruption, significant threats to the continuity of essential services, lower production levels, shortages and distribution difficulties," it says.

"The emergence overseas of an influenza pandemic or other widespread infectious disease may result in a proportion of the British nationals who are not normally resident in the UK (approximately 12 million) choosing to return to the UK. Some returning British nationals would not have the means to support themselves and their return would have a short-term but significant impact upon areas in which they settle."

On terrorism, the report confirms that the national threat assessment currently stands at "severe", meaning that some form of attack is highly likely.

"Many of those networks and individuals who are judged to pose a terrorist threat share an ambition to cause large numbers of casualties without warning," the report says.

It says that the transport system seems to be the most likely target for a terrorist attack, with rail and underground stations "popular targets". But, for any individual, the likelihood of being attacked is "still very low".