Businesses need to prepare urgently for a bird flu pandemic to make sure Hong Kong can recover quickly from such a crisis, a senior health official said. Leung Pak-yin, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, said Hong Kong should not repeat its mistakes during Sars, which had caused an economic disaster. For the past few months, the centre has been briefing all the government bureaus and chambers of commerce on contingency plans for handling a bird flu outbreak. A briefing session for banks will be held next month. Dr Leung told the South China Morning Post some big companies, such as airlines and banks, were assessing the risk of bird flu for their operations. Some were also stockpiling antiviral drugs. But he said the concept of 'business continuity plans' was still new to many other companies, and awareness of the need for risk management was low. 'When we talk about contingency, most people worry whether Hong Kong has enough hospitals beds, isolation wards or medicine. But we also have to look into the economic impact of a pandemic,' he said. 'We need to minimise its damage to our economy. 'It is about how these companies can maintain normal operations during the pandemic. For example, should they avoid clustering of staff and the information systems? Can the companies allow some staff to work from home? Do they have good medical plans for employees? And in case the senior executives are sick, who will take charge in decision-making?' Dr Leung said the centre also was concerned about the ability of public utilities to deal with such a crisis. 'You can imagine how big the trouble could be if there are disruptions in power or water supply, for example,' he said. Hong Kong should prepare itself for infectious diseases in the same way Japan prepared for earthquakes. 'It should not be something ad hoc. The awareness must be there, always,' he said. Cathay Pacific, for example, set up a committee last month to work out contingency plans for bird flu. The airline was among the companies worst hit during the Sars outbreak 2003, when the World Health Organisation advised against travel to Hong Kong. CLP Power recently began reviewing its contingency plan for maintaining supply reliability. 'We are looking into measures such as redeployment or isolation of staff, and health reporting systems,' a spokesman said. Hong Kong Electric is offering staff ordinary flu vaccinations and allows them to work from home in case of emergency. 'We are closely monitoring the situation and keep our staff updated on government health advice and information,' a spokesman said. Dr Leung appealed to the private sector to be cautious about using their stocks of medicine. 'A run on antiviral drugs would be inevitable. What is important is that the private sector takes our advice on when and how to use the drugs,' he said. The centre has 3.5 million antiviral tablets. The stock will increase to 20 million tablets by 2007. Of the pills, 90 per cent are Tamiflu and 10 per cent Ralenza. Under government contingency measures, medical staff will be given the drugs to protect them during a flu pandemic. One dose will protect them for six to eight weeks - giving the authorities time to prepare flu vaccine. The drug stocks are sufficient to treat 15 per cent of the population, or 1 million people - the number experts believe would be vulnerable in the event of a pandemic.