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Consular news – Embassy 16 – April 2009

Consuls on flu watch

Consuls in the UK are considering their response to a serious swine flu outbreak in Britain as confirmed cases rose to 65, with 30 countries affected worldwide.

While healthy foreign nationals were quarantined at various locations in China as a precautionary measure, the Foreign Office told Embassy that the UK had no plans to impose blanket quarantines on uninfected people based on nationality.

A spokesman said: "People entering Britain from affected areas are being asked to fill in a form and are handed an information leaflet. If they experience flu-like symptoms they have been told contact a doctor and to isolate themselves in order not to spread the infection." He added that the FCO would guarantee consular access.

A spokesman at the Mexican Embassy confirmed that Mexican nationals entering the UK had not experienced discrimination. "We have not had any reports of mistreatment in the UK, which has been an example of cooperation," he said, adding that Mexican citizens travelling to countries operating very strict quarantine regimes had been advised to carry with them the contact details of the nearest Mexican consulate.

Consulates in Mexico were forced to suspend all but essential services at the peak of the outbreak and consuls in the UK have been advised to put in place business continuity plans should a severe outbreak occur here in the autumn.

Inspector Phil Moore of the Diplomatic Protection Group, who is responsible for Project Hermes, the joint FCO-DPG emergency information service, told Embassy the service could be used to communicate information from the health authorities to missions about nationals infected with swine flu, but said this would only occur in the event of "a massive outbreak".

Consuls are considering the level of appropriate support for their citizens in the event of an outbreak, notably whether to supply infected nationals with antiviral drugs or whether to insist that citizens are responsible for their own medical care.

Another question is whether governments would charter flights to evacuate citizens in an outbreak.

The FCO spokesman told Embassy the UK government had no plans to provide foreign diplomats with antiviral drugs.

"The protection of foreign diplomats from a flu pandemic does not fall within the scope of the Vienna Conventions," he said.
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