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Bird ‘flu outbreak – simulation exercise

21 February 2008

Bird ‘flu outbreak – simulation exercise

Note: Operation Avis is a simulation only, of a biosecurity response to a national bird flu outbreak. This is only an exercise, but a very important one.

At least 16 species of native bird could be affected by avian influenza, if the disease were to enter New Zealand, the Department of Conservation says.

“Kiwi, takahe and shore plover may be at risk of serious population declines if bird ‘flu got into New Zealand and became established in wild birds,” DOC veterinarian Kate McInnes said today.

A simulation exercise, called Operation Avis, is being run by the Department at the Environment Canterbury Emergency response facilities in Christchurch on 21-22 February. Operation Avis will train DOC’s South Island staff in the Department’s response in the event of an incursion of avian influenza.

This follows on from the successful simulation exercise called Operation Gallus which was run for North Island staff in Wellington in June last year.

DOC’s response plan details a number of measures such as disinfection, hygiene, reducing movements into special areas and even vaccination in some special cases to reduce the spread of the virus in and around populations of threatened species.

For example, DOC staff will be required to detect and report any sick or dead birds to the appropriate authorities via the MAF Biosecurity New Zealand hotline 0800 80 6699.

“Small samples of the at-risk species could be vaccinated to protect them from disease, as part of securing these species from extinction,” Ms McInnes said. The plan includes trigger points for when vaccinations would start, and lists the sites where they would be carried out.

DOC Biosecurity Deputy Chief Technical Officer, Joanne Perry, said Operation Avis would test DOC’s ability to carry out its internal response to a hypothetical scenario in which avian influenza has entered a specific part of New Zealand.

At that point a Coordinated Incident Management System (CIMS) would swing into action to manage DOC’s response.

The actual work during the two days will be carried out as a “desktop exercise”, in which identified DOC staff will take on roles within the CIMS structure. The team will develop an “incident action plan” to manage DOC’s response, and in so doing familiarise themselves with the kinds of decisions that would need to be made, and the processes that would trigger them.

In addition, Operation Avis will test:

• The effectiveness of DOC’s Avian Influenza Response Plan
• DOC’s readiness to respond to a national incursion
• DOC co-ordination with MAF Biosecurity New Zealand
• The type of information and support required of DOC by MAF Biosecurity New Zealand, and
• DOC’s capacity and capability to deliver on DOC and MAF Biosecurity New Zealand requirements.


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