- Mass burials are being considered by
the Home Office as part of preparations for a possible avian flu pandemic.
- A "prudent worst case" assessment
suggested 320,000 people could die in Britain if the H5N1 virus mutated
into a form contagious to humans, according to a confidential report seen
by the Sunday Times.
- That would lead to delays of up to 17
weeks in burying or cremating victims, the document - said to have been
discussed by a cabinet committee - says.
- It warns that the prospect of "common
burial" would stir up images of the mass pits used to bury victims
of the Great Plague in 1665.
- But in fact it "might involve a
large number of coffins buried in the same place at the same time, in such
a way that allowed for individual graves to be marked".
- Town halls - the report suggests - could
deal with what it terms a "base case" of 48,000 deaths in England
and Wales in a 15-week pandemic.
- But it adds: "Even with ramping
local management capacity by 100%, the prudent worst case of 320,000 excess
deaths is projected to lead to a delay of some 17 weeks from death to burial
- Should the outbreak kill 2.5% of those
who contract the flu, it warns, "no matter what emergency arrangements
are put in place there are likely to be substantially more deaths than
can be managed within current timescales".
- Bird flu has already forced the slaughter
of millions of birds across three continents since the deadly H5N1 strain
emerged three years ago.
- More than 100 humans have also been killed
by it - all people who had been in close contact with infected birds. A
pandemic would only become a possibility if the strain was able to mutate
into a form that could be spread between humans