White House tests readiness for pandemic flu

After role-playing an outbreak of pandemic flu, federal officials said Saturday that saving lives and containing the economic damage will require more planning in local communities and increased production of vaccines and medications.

"This is a time for us to be informing but not inflaming. It's a time for us to inspire preparation but not panic," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told reporters at the White House. About 20 Cabinet secretaries and government officials spent four hours testing the government's readiness for any flu outbreak.

"We have time to become the first generation, literally, in the history of man to do something to be prepared for a pandemic," Leavitt said.

President &to=http://english.pravda.ru/mailbox/22/101/399/16096_Bush.html' target=_blank>George W. Bush's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend said that in the little time left before lawmakers adjourn for the year, Congress should approve the $7.1 billion (Ђ6.02 billion) in emergency flu preparedness funds that the president has requested.

But the prospects for the request are not clear, as conservatives in the House oppose rubber-stamping it without finding spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has advocated for the money.

"Days matter," said White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy.

Though in town for the weekend, the president did not participate in the drill. While it was going on around a C-shaped table in a large room in the White House complex, Bush left for nearby suburban Maryland to ride his mountain bike for more than an hour. Vice President Dick Cheney was in his White House office for part of the time, but also did not attend.

Duffy said Bush would be briefed in detail, but didn't need to take part because his role as director of the effort to prepare and respond is already well-defined.

"The president's been focused on this for years," he said. "It is impossible to have the kind of candor and open discussion and a useful preparedness exercise with the president and/or the vice president in the room."

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