Cablegate: Avian Flu: France Reacts to Threat

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

181630Z Oct 05





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A)PARIS 5816 ; B)PARIS 6191

1. (SBU) Summary: The presence of the H5N1 virus in
Romania, Turkey, and (possibly) Greece has captured
front-page headlines and triggered much commentary in
the French media. The French government reacted
swiftly, too. Prime Minister de Villepin confirmed on
October 14 the two French government priorities: to
prevent the spread of the disease in birds, and to
protect the health of the population, and he announced
the implementation of new measures or reinforcement of
measures already in place, particularly with regard to
surveillance and reporting of bird deaths. Because
winter migration patterns for wild birds that may be
infected from the Urals region do not pass over
continental France, French veterinarians are hopeful -
at least this winter - that wild birds will not infect
domestic poultry in France. A revised French
government plan to fight avian flu is expected in the
coming days. End summary.

"No reason to panic"

2. (U) On October 14, Prime Minister de Villepin
convened ministers with responsibilities for avian flu
preparedness, together with Professor Didier Houssin,
the Inter-Ministerial Delegate for Avian Flu, to
discuss risks related to the reports of the appearance
of the H5N1 virus in Romania and Turkey.
Contemporaneously, the GOF announced a number of
measures concerning both the reinforcement of
surveillance of wild and domestic fowl, and new
preventive measures concerning human health. Finance
Minister Thierry Breton noted that France had earmarked
an additional 200 million euros from the 2005 budget to
fund preventive measures. While the GOF sought to
strike a reassuring note, Professor Houssin stated that
his goal was to prepare France "as if the pandemic was
to occur tomorrow."

3. The French National Plan to fight a "pandemic flu"
on which experts started working five years ago was
last revised in May 2005 (text, in French, available on
the Health Ministry website:
( /pandemieg
rippale_plan.pdf). The GOF announced on October 14
that an updated version of the plan, taking into
account the most recent scientific information
available, will be released shortly.

Protect the population

4. (SBU) Sanitary Masks/Anti-Viral Medicine: France
has stockpiled some 50 million masks, which have been
distributed amongst French hospitals. Another 150
million will be available by 2006, and still another
200 million was ordered by the Health Ministry last
week. The reported GOF goal is to eventually stockpile
600 million masks. Government health authorities claim
to be in possession of between five to nine million
anti-viral treatments (we've seen conflicting numbers),
and have announced that 14 million more such treatments
will be available by the end of 2005. GOF officials
reportedly informed the press on October 17 that France
has taken steps to cover the needs of 30 percent of its
population, both in France and abroad. (Note: We have
been told that the EU and the WHO recommend coverage
for 25 percent of a country's population. End note.)
In anticipation of the emergence of a Tamiflu-resistant
virus, the GOF has also begun negotiations with
GlaxoSmithKline to stockpile another anti-viral
treatment, `Relenza'. Health Minister Xavier Bertrand
has said that the GOF will maintain the stockpile of
anti-virals and distribute them -- under the strict
supervision of the French army -- at no cost as needed
in case of a pandemic.

Preventing the spread of the disease

5. (U) Although it is still too early to determine
exactly where France stands with regard to recently
issued EU guidance concerning domestic poultry, France
has announced a number of measures to ensure:
-- Increased surveillance of migratory birds;
-- Screening of domestic poultry for avian flu;
-- Encouraging farmers to keep poultry indoors to
prevent contacts with migratory birds;
-- Stricter controls to prevent the introduction in
France of already banned birds and bird products
(feathers, etc.);
-- Improved reporting of suspect deaths by both farmers
and people in contact with wild birds (hunters, people
working in natural parks, environmentalists).

6. (U) Agriculture Minister Dominique Bussereau also
announced on October 14 that a "realistic exercise"
will take place in Brittany in early November based on
the hypothetical discovery of a source of infection in
the area. Applying the `precautionary principle',
France has also decided, with the European Commission,
to immediately ban the import of poultry from Turkey or

7. (SBU) According to an Embassy contact at the
Agriculture Ministry, World Organization for Animal
Health (OIE) experts who recently analyzed migratory
patterns of wild birds coming from the Urals region are
of the opinion that the birds will head to the southern
and western parts of Africa where they will winter,
avoiding continental France entirely. However,
anticipating possible avian flu outbreaks in Africa,
Inter-ministerial Delegate for Avian Flu Houssin has
emphasized the difficulties inherent in controlling the
spread of the H5N1 virus if it appears there. He also
has highlighted risks when potentially infected
migratory birds return from Africa to Europe and urges
the international community to help African countries
counter the virus in Africa.

8. (U) Comment: Concern regarding the steady creep of
the avian flu into southeastern Europe has created an
incessant flow of commentary in the media. Paris' role
as a major international transportation hub increases
its vulnerability to any pandemic outbreak. The
average Frenchman is not certain what s/he should do.
The government is well into planning for a pandemic,
while at the same time urging the public to remain
calm. End comment.


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