24 OCTOBER 2001

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Anthrax hysteria

By Miriam Dunn

"Let’s just be thankful that this scare didn’t happen in the lead-up to Christmas."

These were the sentiments expressed yesterday by Maltapost spokesman, Tony Barbaro Sant.

Mr Barbaro Sant said he hoped that the disruption to the mail service would be minimal.
"Obviously there is some inconvenience to our customers while we await the results of the tests, but we sincerely hope this will be minimised if, as many are thinking, this scare proves to be a false alarm."

Mr Barbaro Sant said that Maltapost was urging its customers to be patient, stressing that the current situation was an "abnormal one", which was outside of its control.

"The only positive thing we can say is that at least this inconvenience has come in October and not December, when we would have been dealing with the Christmas post," he said.

Six of Malta’s post offices have so far been closed over the past two days while tests were carried out on Maltapost employees who were feared to have come into contact with an unknown powder, although it is widely thought that the substance was not Anthrax, but a hoax.

The post offices closed so far have been Valletta, Balzan, Paola, Luqa, St Paul’s Bay and Zabbar.

The Luqa branch has seen been re-opened.

Letters intercepted by Maltapost staff were addressed to the American embassy in Floriana, the American ambassador`s residence in Balzan, and one to the British High Commission in Floriana.

It was noticed that the letters contained powder when the envelopes tore open as they were being stamped.

The suspect letters handled in Malta are being sent to a laboratory in the UK for the powder to be identified.

The Civil Protection Department carried out clearing operations, entering the branches while wearing protective rubber gear, and retrieving the letters.

After they came out of the branch, they stepped into a tank, specifically prepared for them, where they were sprayed all over to decontaminate their protective gear.

The workers were given the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin which they were instructed to continue taking till the powder found in the letters is identified.

Commenting on the fact that the incidents are almost certainly hoaxes, Mr Barbaro Sant said that it was a great shame there were people who found it funny to play such "sick jokes" which were undoubtedly causing great inconvenience to people relying on the postal service.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt