A global swine flu pandemic has been officially declared by the World Health Organization, which warns that many more deaths must be expected.
Said director-general Dr Margaret Chan: ‘On the basis of available evidence and expert assessment of the evidence, the scientific criteria for an influenza pandemic has been met.
‘I have therefore decided to raise the influenza pandemic alert from phase five to phase six. The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic.’
She warned that the world must prepare for a possibly more virulent second wave later in the year, and that countries ‘must maintain continuous vigilance’.
And she said: ‘Many, though not all, severe cases have occurred in people with underlying chronic conditions. Based on limited, preliminary data, conditions most frequently seen include respiratory diseases, notably asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and obesity.’
However, this ‘moderately severe’ first wave of infections, which is unpredictable and unstoppable, ‘is unlikely to see a big jump in the number of deaths’.
She added that the virus is under ‘constant and careful’ watch around the world. So far, 144 people have died and 28,774 cases have been detected in 74 countries, 800 of them in Britain.