WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has declared swine flu a “national emergency” as the United States reels from millions of cases of infection and more than 1,000 deaths.
The emergency declaration, which was made public Saturday, lets doctors and nurses temporarily bypass certain federal requirements so they can better handle a spike in influenza A(H1N1) patients.
The declaration comes just days after Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius warned that demand was outstripping supply of vaccine for the novel flu strain. “The 2009 H1N1 pandemic continues to evolve,” Obama said in the declaration.
“The rates of illness continue to rise rapidly within many communities across the nation, and the potential exists for the pandemic to overburden health care resources in some localities.”
US officials however said the declaration was not issued due to any specific development, but rather as a pre-emptive measure.
As Americans waited for more vaccine shipments, 46 of the 50 states now report widespread swine flu activity — an unusually early uptick that ordinarily takes place in January or February at the peak of a normal flu season.
“By rapidly identifying the virus, implementing public health measures, providing guidance for health professionals and the general public, and developing an effective vaccine, we have taken proactive steps to reduce the impact of the pandemic and protect the health of our citizens,” Obama said.
Among other things, the declaration gives Sebelius temporary authority to allow local authorities to set up makeshift emergency rooms to treat possible flu victims separate from regular patients.