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Agencies announce new avian flu plans

Gearing up their preparations to prevent avian flu, various agencies and local governments are updating their regulations to combat the H5N1 virus, with some confusion evident in the Ministry of Education.
Seventy-two hours after stipulating that students have their temperatures taken when arriving at school, Education Minister Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) reversed himself yesterday, saying the measure was no longer compulsory. He urged school officials, however, to remain vigilant in detecting any signs of avian flu among the students.

"Unlike SARS, an infected person is most contagious before he or she displays any signs of the flu. Therefore body temperature is not a good indicator. But we are asking teachers to cancel any lessons involving bird watching or bird dissecting," Tu said.

"We are also asking students not to come to school if they feel sick. Instead, they should see a doctor right away," Tu added.

COA measures

For its part, the Council of Agriculture announced mandatory vaccinations will be administered to birds within three kilometers of an infected farm or area.

COA chief Lee Chin-lung (李金龍) disclosed that his agency had prepared 70 million doses of the vaccine to address the possible outbreak. The council has also organized a series of lectures and conferences to teach local breeders and vendors how to prevent their animals from getting infected.

On an inspection tour to Kinmen yesterday, Department of Health head Hou Sheng-mou (侯勝茂) said once China reports a bird to human transmission case, passengers from China will undergo a mandatory self-health monitoring system for 10 days upon their arrival in Kinmen.

In a move to prevent the public from being deceived by scam artists, DOH Bureau of Pharmaceutical Affairs Director-General Liao Chi-chow announced that any businessmen who make false claims over their products' ability to cure avian flu will face a penalty up to NT$300,000.

"At the moment, Tamiflu and Relenza are the only two products proven effective in treating avian flu. Anyone who tries to push false products on the public will be punished," Liao said.

Roche answers

The DOH also announced that Roche, the patent holder of Tamiflu, had officially replied to Taiwan's petition to seek authorization to produce a generic version of the anti-viral drug locally.

The letter stated that "Roche is willing to enter into discussion with any party who is able to fully or partially produce substantial quantities of Tamiflu, for emergency pandemic use, which a specified timeline and in accordance with appropriate quality specifications, safety and regulatory guidelines."

Li Jih-heng, a DOH official stated the response is a positive step toward opening negotiations with the Swiss pharmaceutical giant.

"We will send Roche all the information on Taiwan's ability to make Tamiflu and our capacity to mass produce the drug when necessary," said Li.

British accusations

Meanwhile, the Government Information Office expressed concern over accusations by the British government that a dead parrot in Britain contracted the H5N1 virus strand while in quarantine with infected birds from Taiwan.

The GIO demanded an official correction from the British press stating that the allegation was completely unfounded.

GIO chief Yao Wen-chih also urged British health officials to investigate the origin of the news. He stated that any inaccurate news that tarnished the national image of Taiwan needed to be redressed immediately.