Ministers admit failure in dealing with E coli outbreak

Berlin: The German government today convened an emergency meeting of federal and state health ministers for the first time since the outbreak of the deadly E coli
infection over a month ago.

The ministers admitted failures in their crisis management and lack of proper co-ordination between federal and state authorities in dealing with Germany`s worst E coli
outbreak in more than 60 years.

So far, the outbreak of the infection has claimed 25 lives and infected 1,959 people, 700 of them with the lethal haemolytic uramic syndrome (HUS), according to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany`s disease control and prevention centre.

The ministers said that they agreed to thoroughly evaluate the cooperation between the EU and federal and state governments as well as between health and food monitoring
authorities in the context of the E coli outbreak.

The federal and state governments will pay compensations for the extra costs for hospitals in treating a growing number of E coli patients, especially in northern Germany.

The meeting was attended by EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, who had criticised Germany for issuing premature and inaccurate conclusions about the E coli infection and urged the German authorities to make sure that their warnings about the origin of the infection are well substantiated and scientifically based.

The meeting comes a day after Germany was lambasted by its EU partners at a meeting of their agriculture ministers in Luxembourg for its handling of the E coli outbreak and for issuing warnings about possible sources of infection without
any scientific evidence.

BDS Spain`s agriculture minister Rosa Aguilas told journalists in Luxembourg that unsubstantiated warnings by Hamburg`s health authorities about ten days ago identifying Spanish cucumbers as a potential source of infection had ruined the existence of several farmers and damaged the reputation of the country`s agricultural sector.

Following the warning, Hamburg had imposed an import ban on Spanish cucumbers, but laboratory tests later showed that even though some cucumbers carried the E coli bacteria, they were not the highly virulent strain, which causes the HUS.

Several European nations followed suit and banned imports of Spanish cucumbers while Russia clamped down a ban on all imports of fresh vegetables from the entire EU.

Hamburg`s health authorities should have taken into consideration the consequences of their hasty action for Germany`s EU partners before taking such steps, Aguilas said.

It was highly embarrassing for Germany`s health authorities that a second warning about bean sprouts from an organic farm as a potential carrier of the killer bacteria
also could not be substantiated.

Laboratory tests of 40 samples taken from the farm in Lower Saxony so far were negative.

Meanwhile, the health ministry in the state of Saxony Anhalt said specialists are examining a cucumber tainted with the lethal bacteria, which was found in a waste bin belonging to an E coli-infected family in the state capital Magdeburg.

Germany`s new health minister Daniel Bahr admitted failures by the authorities and said there have been too much speculations which caused confusion among the public.

Bahr defended German health authorities who warned against fresh vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and bean sprouts as potential sources of the E coli infection and said those warnings are valid even today.

Dalli said after the meeting Hamburg health officials warning against Spanish cucumbers were justified. He also praised Germany`s effort to stem the E coli outbreak and said European food security authorities are impressed by their cooperation with Germany`s crisis management team.


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