Britain announced a spike in deaths related to swine flu on Thursday, but as health experts began grappling with worst-case scenarios, difficult questions over the availability of vaccines emerged.
France and Portugal announced major orders for vaccines against the A(H1N1) virus, soon after Latin American countries expressed concern that their poorer region could miss out, despite being worst-hit by the pandemic.
AdvertisementIn London the Health Protection Agency said 29 people with the A(H1N1) virus in Britain had so far died, a sharp increase in the death toll, which earlier this week stood at 17.
It also estimated there were 55,000 new cases last week in Britain, the country worst hit by the pandemic in Europe.
The chief medical officer for England, Liam Donaldson, published new projections to help the health service manage the virus, but which he stressed presented the worst-case scenario.
This scenario suggested that the virus could kill up to 65,000 people, while up to nine percent of the workforce could have flu by the end of August, rising to 12 percent over the winter.
Britain has ordered 132 million doses of a flu vaccine: enough for 60 million people.
France announced it had ordered 94 million swine flu vaccine doses, stepping up its efforts to contain what the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned is now an unstoppable pandemic.
Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot said the vaccines -- a one-billion-euro order -- would be delivered between October and January.
France's minister for higher education and research Valerie Pecresse said Thursday the government had set aside two million euros towards resarch on swine flu.
Portugal also announced an order for six million doses of vaccine, costing 45 million euros (64 million dollars) to be deliver by January at the latest.
"We will be in a position to vaccinate for free all the groups considered to be at risk," said Health Minister Ana Jorge.
Neither country has reported a death from swine flu.
In Argentina, which has recorded 137 confirmed deaths -- second only to the US toll -- Health Minister Juan Manzur expressed fears that South American countries would not be able to get their share of the vaccines.
"We have information that much of the production is already reserved," he said, in remarks late Wednesday after hosting six-nation talks on the issue.
Of the other countries present at the talks, Chile has 33 deaths, Uruguay 15, Paraguay six, Brazil four, and Bolivia two.
Ministers at the meeting also expressed alarm that the virus had picked up in the southern hemisphere's winter.
The WHO has reported about 430 deaths worldwide, but their last toll dates back to July 6.
Spain health's ministry on Thursday reported a third death from swine flu: a 33-year-old woman on the island of Palma de Mallorca, but stressed that most people were responding well to conventional treatment.
On Thursday, Australia warned it could face 6,000 swine flu deaths this year. But Health Minister Nicola Roxon stressed: "That's really the worst-case scenario that is being projected at the moment."
It was on the assumption that there would be a lack of vaccines and anti-viral drugs, she said.
Australia is the Asia-Pacific nation worst-hit by the pandemic, with 11,194 infections -- or nearly 12 percent of the global total of 94,500 confirmed by the World Health Organization.
It is planning a mass vaccination scheme in October.
WHO chief Margaret Chan warned on Wednesday that a vaccine to combat the surging pandemic would not be readily available for months.