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Qld: Police searching for swine flu flight passengers

By Angela Harper and Evan Schwarten
30 Apr 2009 5:27 PM

BRISBANE, April 30 AAP - Police have been called in to help search for two passengers who shared a flight with New Zealand schoolchildren carrying the deadly swine flu virus, as 21 Queenslanders await the results of tests.

Five passengers from the Air New Zealand flight, subsequently found to have had on board three students who tested positive for swine flu, have been tested in Queensland and cleared.

Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young said on Thursday problems with immigration cards, which all international air passengers fill out on arrival, were hampering the search.

"This is about something that is evolving so rapidly we're having to fix things as we go along ... so we are finding we have all these errors," Dr Young said.

Dr Young refused to identify where the two people were from, revealing only that police had been called in to assist.

"I've asked the police to assist me in trying to locate those people and they have been very, very helpful," she said.

Tests are still outstanding on 21 people in Queensland who had flu-like symptoms.

While there had yet to be a confirmed case in Australia, Dr Young said flu clinics would be established and schools would be closed in any community where there was an outbreak.

Health Minister Paul Lucas said the number of people being checked and cleared was changing by the hour.

Specialist nurses have been stationed at Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Cairns international airports to assess at-risk people.

Hand-held scanners that can detect high body temperatures are also in place at the airports but are yet to be turned on, pending advice from federal authorities.

New customs declaration forms identifying sick passengers are also being rolled out.

"You'll be breaching federal law if you make a false declaration," Mr Lucas said.

"This is a notifiable disease in Queensland - if someone has it and has tested positive then they must notify Queensland Health."

Meanwhile, Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid, who visited the state's north on Thursday, said the threat should not be underestimated.

"We've had avian flu with us for six years and in that six years people have contracted that flu from birds, but there has been no reported instance of human-to-human avian flu contact," he said.

"We've had swine flu for six weeks and in that six weeks we've had it extending from pigs to humans and now from human-to-human."

Airport checks were stepped as the World Health Organisation raised its flu alert level to phase five out of six, signalling that a pandemic was "imminent".

Premier Anna Bligh on Thursday cancelled a trade trip to the Middle East and Europe in order to coordinate Queensland's swine flu response.

"With the upgrading by the WHO to phase five, my priority is ensuring we are doing everything possible to prepare for this growing threat and to be a part of the national planning," Ms Bligh said.