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Vic: Pandemic plan doesn't fit virus

By Catherine Best
01 Jun 2009 5:55 PM

MELBOURNE, June 1 AAP - Victoria is in uncharted territory as it struggles to contain the swine flu outbreak, with a pandemic plan that fails to fit the characteristics of the virus.

As the number of confirmed cases in Victoria leapt by 94 to 306 on Monday, Premier John Brumby flagged upgrading the response level by the end of this week.

But according to the state's pandemic plan, moving to the sustain phase would normally be associated with a number of deaths.

So far there have been no swine flu fatalities in Australia.

And the state government now admits that keeping thousands of healthy people in quarantine, as prescribed under the contain level, may no longer be sustainable.

"I would foreshadow with you that we will be likely to make some shifts later this week," Mr Brumby said.

"Given its severity and given its catchiness (sic) across the community, it is likely that we will need to move to sustain phase."

Victoria now accounts for three-quarters of the national swine flu count of 400.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews said discussions were being held with federal health authorities.

If Victoria's pandemic response level was upgraded it would be to a "modified" sustain phase.

"There's no change at this stage but it is only fair to foreshadow that detailed consideration is being given to modifying the arrangements we have in place," he said.

"A point does come where there are limits to how many people you can intensively contact trace, the point does come when ... to continue to be mass testing, to continue to be quarantining large numbers of people may not, in coming days, be proportionate to the risks posed by the H1N1 virus."

Shutting down mass gatherings and public events would not be on the agenda as part of a modified response, Mr Andrews said.

"The pandemic plan talks about a range of social distancing measures. Those are predicated on a virus that had a mortality rate such as H5N1, avian flu, at 50 or 60 per cent. Clearly and pleasingly we are not seeing those sorts of adverse outcomes."

Victoria's chief health officer Dr Rosemary Lester said health officials were working out how a modified sustain phase might work.

It would focus on protecting people who are most susceptible to the virus and target aged-care facilities, hospitals, special schools and childcare centres, she said.

Twelve schools remain closed in Victoria and more than 3,000 people are in quarantine.