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SecaucusFats
01-16-2005, 04:05 PM
Nations Vulnerable To Bioterror
Agence France Presse via TurkishPress.com | Sunday, January 16, 2005 | Staff

WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (AFP) - Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former French health minister Bernard Kouchner were among the dignitaries playing the role of president of their respective countries in an exercise conducted here Friday to explore how governments around the Atlantic would react to a biological terrorist attack in the region.

Under the scenario, presidents and prime ministers of several countries were gathered for a summit in Washington Friday when they learned at 9:00 am that a total of 51 cases of smallpox had been reported in Germany, Turkey, Sweden and the Netherlands.

An unknown group called the "New Jihad" was scripted as claiming responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the West's oppression of Muslim countries.

Participants were asked to respond in real time as the toll mounted. After an hour, 240 cases had been detected in six countries. By the end of the morning, the count rose to 3,000 cases, including hundreds in the United States.

The scenario continued with stock markets collapsing, and thousands trying to flee cities where the outbreaks were being reported.

The debate centered around measures to take to avoid panic, and whether to administer smallpox vaccinations to medical and emergency workers, or to the general population. Among the effected countries, Turkey had no vaccines and asked for NATO assistance.

The heads-of-state-for-a-day took initial measures. "I urge you, this is a medical emergency," said French "president" Kouchner as he ordered vaccinations to begin.

The group considered closing borders but dropped the idea as both inefficient and economically disastrous.

The debate was intense on the diplomatic and political front. Several European heads of state said NATO should not be involved in such operations. They argued that a UN Security Council resolution was necessary, while others said that would take too long.

All agreed that the World Health Organization (WHO) should be given the task of collecting excess smallpox vaccines, from countries which in fact had sufficient stocks for their own protection.

"From the point of view of the United Stated, it was a very hard decision to work through the WHO because it was a sign we could trust an international organization," said Albright, who in the real world served as secretary of state under the Democratic president bill Clinton.

Her comment appeared to be a thinly veiled reference to the suspicion with which the current US administration regards international organizations, notably toward the United Nations during the Iraq crisis.

"We Americans must support the UN," Albright said after the exercise, which was described as both frightening and effective by participants, many of whom learned for the first time how poorly stocked their countries are with smallpox vaccine.

While the United States, Germany and France have enough to vaccinate their entire populations, Italy, for example, can protect only ten percent of its citizens, official statistics show.

"When I saw the list, that was a shock to me," said Klaas de Vries, former Dutch interior minister.

The disparities need to be addressed, said Erika Mann, a member of the European Parliament who represented the EU during the exercise.

"We will work on this gap. Some members are a hundred percent covered and other only have five percent of their population covered," said Mann.

The exercise, dubbed "Atlantic Storm," was organised by the University of Pittsburgh and Johns Hopkins University.

01/15/2005 06:49 GMT - AFP

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