Red Cross 'ready for action' if swine flu pandemic strikes UK

Volunteers prepared to drive ambulances and deliver medication

The British Red Cross has said it is ready to respond to a large-scale outbreak of swine flu in the UK.

Margaret Lally, interim director of UK operations, said it had plans for volunteers to collect medication for housebound people and drive ambulances if regular services were stretched.

"Several of our managers across the country have been invited to meet local resilience forums over the next few days to review the situation and how we can help," she said.

The Voluntary Sector Civil Protection Forum, which coordinates the role of the sector in national emergency planning, held a teleconference on Friday to discuss what could be done. Chaired by the Red Cross, its members include WRVS, St John Ambulance and the Salvation Army.

Charities have also started taking precautions to protect staff. Drug and alcohol charity Rugby-House ARP has advised staff and service users on hygiene procedures. "We are looking at who lives where, so we have people ready to cover anyone off sick," said Steve Hall, director of services.

John Burnell, director of Personnel Solutions, said: "Voluntary organisations should already have contingency plans in place."

Aid agencies in Mexico have been working to contain the flu. The Mexican Red Cross's 12,000 volunteers have distributed 200,000 posters and two million leaflets. Tearfund partner Amextra has been distributing masks and dietary supplements.

Oxfam's regional centre in Mexico City, where 46 staff are based, remains open for essential staff.

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