Planning for worst-case flu scenario

Emergency services, power companies and local councils are preparing to deploy unprecedented measures to deal with the expected swine flu pandemic.

Local Authorities have raised the prospect of rationing supplies, while energy firms say they may have to "bring in camp beds" for control rooms if staff are forced to work day and night.

Police officers and ambulance crews may soon be issued with face masks to protect them from encounters with flu victims, while prison officers may be transported across the country to other jails to ensurecriminals are kept under lock and key.

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Health chiefs warned last week that the pandemic may hit a peak in early September with up to 30 per cent of the population experiencing symptoms of the virus. In a worst-case scenario, the Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson warned that as many as 65,000 people could die before the end of the year.

With sickness absence rates therefore likely to rocket, the country's basic services are set to face unprecedented pressure.

Scottish Power said last night that government officials had been "receptive" to plans to suspend the current working time rules which state that no power workers should work more than 48 hours a week.

Spokesman Gordon Irving said: "What we are talking about is making sure the lights stay on.

"There may be camp beds. If things got really bad, we would shut the canteens and other places where lots of staff mix."

Other utilities, such as Scottish Water, said there were "national arrangements" to ensure that essential services such as water supply were maintained.