WikiLeaks cable: NZ concerned about avian influenza threat

September 13, 2005
NZ concerned about avian influenza threat

SUBJECT: NEW ZEALAND CONCERNED ABOUT AVIAN INFLUENZA THREAT

REF: A. SECSTATE 153802
B. IIR 6 869 0040 05

Classified By: Charge D'Affaires David R. Burnett,
for reasons 1.4(B) and (D)

1. (C) Summary: New Zealand is taking very seriously the
threat of avian influenza, and an inter-ministerial group
meets biweekly to discuss preparations. There are also
numerous subgroups of officials who are strategizing on how
the country would address the public health, economic,
social, and other consequences of an epidemic here. New
Zealand is coordinating closely with WHO, Australian
officials, and others on flu preparations. Despite this
work, an official heavily involved in the planning said that
the country's ability to monitor the spread of avian flu
elsewhere is limited, especially in those countries not known
for accurate reporting. GNZ would welcome U.S. information
(including intelligence) about outbreaks anywhere in the
world. End Summary.

2. (C) On September 1, ADCM discussed New Zealand's avian
flu strategy with Marlene Castle, External Assessments Bureau
(EAB).

EAB is located in the Prime Minister's office and is
responsible for monitoring and analyzing world events for the
PM and Cabinet officials. Castle is a chemical and
biological weapons expert and has been following the avian
flu epidemic for the last two years. She is also heavily
involved in GNZ's contingency planning should a pandemic
strike here, and regularly briefs the Prime Minister on the
disease's trajectory. (Comment: Castle showed ADCM a
returned copy of her August briefing memo; the PM had
underlined several passages and had commented in the margins
that the memo's contents had great implications for New
Zealand. End Comment.) Castle said that since early this
year, it had been more and more apparent to EAB that the
avian flu could become a pandemic. An "Interdepartmental
Pandemic Planning" group was formed in June and has met every
two weeks since then.

3. (C) The interdepartmental group is coordinated by the
Ministry of Health in close cooperation with the Officials
Committee for Domestic and External Security Coordination
(ODESC), comprised of senior GNZ officials from the Prime
Minister's office and other ministries. EAB Director David
Kersey has been seconded to ODESC for this purpose, and
currently spends only 10% of his time at EAB. In addition to
the overall group, there are a variety of subgroups looking
at contingency planning in various sectors should an outbreak
strike. These include border controls, education, social
implications, etc. The group and its related subgroups
include virtually every government department, including the
Prime Minister's Office, Police, Fire service, Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and Trade, Education Department, Labour
Department, Civil Defence, Transport (civil aviation and
maritime), Inland Revenue, and the Treasury.

4. (C) The groups have been instructed to plan for the
worst-case scenario. The education group, for example, is
looking at when and how to shut down all schools in New
Zealand. Others are looking how to maintain essential
services such as telecommunications, information technology,
energy, banking, the provision of food, and the continuation
of non-flu related medical services.

5. (C) There is of course also a group developing a health
plan to deal with the outbreak itself. The plan is based on
WHO guidelines. Castle said that GNZ officials involved in
the plan are in "constant touch" with WHO as well as
Australian officials. (One Kiwi health official had just
returned from Australia, Castle said.) GNZ also is looking
to obtain enough antivirals to treat 20% of the population.
They have half of this supply already, Castle said. GNZ
officials are also looking with interest at the development
of vaccines in the United States and Australia. Given that
the vaccines will not be ready for some time, the government
is focusing attention on how to stop the disease from
entering New Zealand, restricting its spread if it does, and
managing the situation if the outbreak spreads. Officials
are also considering how to take care of New Zealand
officials and defense forces who may be exposed to avian flu
overseas.

6. (C) The "external" subgroup is also looking at Pacific
Island governments' preparations for a possible pandemic,
especially the Cook Islands and Nuie, which are
self-governing in free association with New Zealand.
Officials are also concentrating on Samoa and Tonga, given
these island's strong connection with New Zealand.

7. (C) The planning group is developing a public education
campaign, including a website that Castle said should be in
place soon. Other steps are being considered, including
pamphlets and the inclusion of information in phone
directories. The aim is to educate without inducing panic.
Castle estimated that the Government's planning was about 50%
completed so far. The aim is to have all planning completed
by late October or early November.

8. (C) Castle expressed concern that the reporting of
disease incidence by Russia, China, Hong Kong, and countries
in SE Asia is not accurate. She said GNZ would appreciate
any information the United States could provide -- open
source or otherwise -- about outbreaks in these and other
countries. Castle said she has already discussed this and
other avian flu-related issues with State Department
officials, and has greatly appreciated this exchange. She
said her monthly reports to the Prime Minister are already
being provided to U.S. analysts through separate channels.

-------------------
Contact Information
-------------------

9. (C) New Zealand's key senior contact on Avian Flu issues
is External Assessment Bureau (EAB) Director David Kersey.
The best working level contact is EAB analyst Marlene Castle.
Although Kersey and Castle are both with the External
Assessments Bureau, Kersey is working on avian flu issues in
the Prime Minister's Department for most of the time. he
can, however, still be reached via EAB. Emboffs are in
regular contact with both Kersey and Castle.

The External Assessment Bureau is located at:

Reserve Bank Building
2 The Terrace
Wellington

(tel) 64 4 915 2900
(fax) 64 4 915 2940

Mailing Address is:

External Assessments Bureau
PO Box 18099
Wellington


Burnett

- Herald on Sunday

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