AUSTRALIA FLU MAY TIP PANDEMIC
For that to happen, officials would have to verify that the disease had become established outside North America, where the crisis began.
“Once I get indisputable evidence, I will make the announcement,” said WHO director general, Margaret Chan.
More than 1,200 people have contracted the virus in Australia – none fatally.
The total means Australia has seen a four-fold increase in a week.
Less than a month ago the country had only a handful of cases of the H1N1 virus but it now has the highest number of infections outside North America.
Victoria and the state capital, Melbourne, are the worst-hit with more than 1,000 confirmed cases.
Most of those affected are suffering only a mild illness, but the Health Minister of Australia's Queenland state, Paul Lucas, has warned that the contagious respiratory condition would inevitably claim lives.
On Tuesday, the head of the WHO's global influenza programme, Keiji Fukuda, said the stituation had “evolved a lot” in recent days.
“We are getting close to knowing that we are in a pandemic situation,” he said.
But Dr Fukuda urged calm. “It does not mean that the severity of the situation has increased or that people are getting seriously sick at higher numbers or higher rates than before,” he said.
The WHO will hold a conference call with governments on Wednesday before making a formal announcement, Associated Press news agency reported.
Following the major outbreaks in North America the flu alert is currently at phase five of a six-level scale.
The virus has infected more than 26,500 people in 73 countries, the WHO said on Tuesday.
BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh says it is true that the word “pandemic” sounds scary. But it simply means a global epidemic of an infectious disease.
He says it is not a signal that the virus is getting more virulent – only a measure of its geographical spread.
As the number of H1N1 cases in Australia passes 1,200, Singapore has urged its citizens to avoid travel to Victoria.
Authorities in New South Wales and South Australia, as well as the national capital, Canberra, have told children who have recently travelled to Melbourne to stay away from school for a week on their return home.
The entire squad and staff of the Brisbane Broncos rugby league club have been put into quarantine as tests are carried out on a player suspected of contracting swine flu.