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The bird flu hysteria-mongering has begun, as a doctor prepares to tell the British Medical Association that preparations for a flu pandemic are "woefully inadequate" and could lead to "1,000 September 11ths".

Quite what he means by this is something of a mystery, since we know of no correlation between sick birds and the likelihood of several planes coming to blows with tall buildings.

Still, Dr Steve Hajioff wants UK planners to stop worrying about stockpiling vaccines, and focus instead on making sure the country's infrastructure would continue to function in the event of many thousands of people becoming ill at once.

After all, if almost half the population was to fall ill at the same time the economic impact would, surely, be greater even than that of people skiving off work to watch the footie.

Dr Hajioff told The Scotsman: "We are expecting a real flu pandemic of the kind we have not seen for years and this is one of the biggest catastrophes. What's more, it's a totally predictable one, but if we act now we can mitigate its effects."

He argues that if a pandemic as lethal as the one that swept the world in 1918 were to strike again, hundreds of thousands of people across the country would die. The 1918 outbreak saw about 2.5 per cent of the population killed by the virus.

"In the present day, you are talking about five million people across Europe and hundreds of thousands in the UK. It's like 1,000 September 11ths all at once," he said.

"I'm a GP and I can prepare my surgery, but if the electricity company that supplies my power has not prepared, then I am not going to be able to treat patients." ®

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