Emergency plans are being drawn up by government health advisers to deal with a potential outbreak of bird flu in Britain, which experts warn could claim many thousands of lives.
Measures being considered include closing schools, cinemas or theatres in affected areas, quarantining those who come into contact with victims, cancelling routine operations to allow hospitals to deal with the outbreak, and public education.
But highly sensitive consultations are also taking place over who would be given priority for early protective drug therapy.
The anti-viral drugs that can treat the disease have not yet been stockpiled and would probably cover only up to a third of the population.
Healthcare workers, as well as emergency service staff, would be given priority, following a plan drawn up during an earlier flu alarm, as would women in the later stages of pregnancy. The new scheme could include computer staff in a group of 'essential' workers who would have to be treated in order to ensure the economy did not collapse in the event of a pandemic.
The Whitehall blueprint is being given new urgency because of alerts from the World Health Organisation, which believes that the bird flu sweeping South-East Asia could move into the human population next year.
The virus carries a 73 per cent mortality rate, so fast action would need to be taken once the infection appeared on British shores. Sars, which hit Asia and Canada last year, revealed how air travel allows infections to cross the world in days if security measures are not taken in the countries of origin.
The last time Britain was hit by a flu virus was in 1968, when the Hong Kong strain arrived and affected 8 per cent of the adult population and caused 40,000 deaths. The new outbreak could be more virulent, because it is a new strain and there would be no pool of immunity against it.
What's the US doing? Why just google it and you'll see.