|Vol.7, No.42, 15.11.01, p1
FEARS that the EU's capital city could be the latest target for anthrax attacks were allayed yesterday after health officials said suspect letters sent to Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and the US embassy had tested negative for the deadly bacteria.
Despite the hoax, EU institutions and government offices in Brussels remain on alert. Envelopes containing powder were reportedly sent to the Belgian King, Albert II, the defence ministry and national parliament as well as to the prime minister. Marjan Leicher, spokeswoman of Magda Aelvoet, the Belgian minister for consumer protection, public health and environment, said laboratory tests had shown the powder in the envelopes was harmless.
Nevertheless, she urged anyone finding a suspect package in Belgium to put it inside two sealable plastic bags, wash their hands and forearms thoroughly and call the emergency services. Since the anthrax attacks on America began, Belgium has sent about 860 packages for testing. Most were sent without malice and merely contained material such as sugar and salt, Leicher said.
But the government is taking no chances. It is stockpiling the antibiotic that fights anthrax, along with drugs to combat smallpox - seen as another potential hazard - to cope with demand from natives and EU workers alike. EU officials said they had stepped up security measures to cope with the possibility that they could face a genuine attack.
European Parliament director of communications David Harley said the assembly was following the advice of the authorities in Belgium and France to ensure MEPs and staff in Brussels and Strasbourg are safe. He said "one or two" suspect packages had been handed to the authorities, but that they had subsequently tested negative. Officials at the Council of Ministers said mailroom staff had been offered special training to identify risky packages.
Commission spokesman Jonathan Faull added: "All necessary measures have been taken to ensure safety of staff in the Commission." Other EU institutions and agencies are taking similar precautions.
Fears that Brussels could be the latest target for anthrax attacks were allayed after health officials said suspect letters sent to Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and the US embassy had tested negative for the deadly bacteria.
|Justice and Home Affairs