NEW YORK (Reuters) - A draft of the Bush administration's final plan for dealing with a likely Pandemic flu outbreak shows the United States is woefully unprepared for the potential disaster, The New York Times reported on Saturday.
The document says a large outbreak that began in Asia would be likely to reach the United States within "a few months or even weeks," and that more than 1.9 million people could die in the worst case scenario, the Times said.
If that occurred, according to the draft, hospitals would be overwhelmed, riots would engulf vaccination clinics and power and food would be in short supply, it said.
The Times said it obtained a copy of the plan which has been years in the making and is expected to be released later this month. A spokeswoman for Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt told the paper the document it had was a draft and had not been finalized.
The H5N1 avian influenza virus has killed millions of birds across Asia and infected 116 people, killing 60 of them. If it acquires the ability to pass easily from person to person, it could kill millions in the space of a few months, experts say.
The nearly 400-page plan calls for quarantine and travel restrictions, but notes that those moves are unlikely to slow "introduction of pandemic disease into the U.S. by more than a month or two," the Times said.
The draft, written by health officials, includes 10 supplements that suggest ways for local and state governments to prepare, such as drafting documents that would justify quarantine. It does not address military or other government departmental responses, the Times reported.
According to the document, in the worst-case scenario 8.5 million would also be hospitalized, and costs would exceed $450 billion. It calls for production of 600 million vaccines within six months, which is more than 10 times current capacity.
U.S. President George W. Bush met with the chief executive officers of some of the top corporate makers of vaccines on Friday and asked them to do their utmost to boost flu vaccine production.
The Times quoted an unnamed health official who provided the copy of the plan as saying its true shortcoming was "that is doesn't say who's in charge."
Envisioning how an outbreak might play out at its peak, the draft says about a quarter of workers stay home because they are sick or afraid of becoming sick. Hospitals are overwhelmed, it says.
"Social unrest occurs," the plan says. "Public anxiety heightens mistrust of government, diminishing compliance with public health advisories. Mortuaries and funeral homes are overwhelmed."
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