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Influenza Pandemic Could Cost Canadian Economy $9 Billion

Over half of Canadian critical industry workers may not show up to work during a flu pandemic

TORONTO, Dec. 12 /CNW/ - Immediate action to ensure employee health and safety during an influenza pandemic is critical, according to a national survey. Results show that 54 per cent of critical industry workers would be uncomfortable going to work if several people in their city or town were diagnosed with pandemic influenza. However, over 90 per cent of respondents said that they would be more likely to report to work if they knew their employer had plans to provide them with preventative flu medicines.

Guy Holburn, Associate Professor at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business, estimates that this level of absenteeism amongst critical industry workers, and the domino effect on other businesses, could cost the Canadian economy $9 billion.

"This survey indicates that a pandemic flu outbreak would create an immediate and substantial negative impact on the economy, caused by high levels of absenteeism amongst critical infrastructure workers," said Professor Holburn. While only a minority of the labour force would miss work due to illness, a substantial proportion would not report to work due to concerns about exposure and possible infection.

"The impact of this level of absenteeism in these critical industries would have a significant negative multiplier effect on the short-term performance of most other businesses, and $9 billion is likely a conservative estimate," said Professor Holburn. "Economic activity in all industries depends on the reliable functioning of critical infrastructure sectors such as electricity, telecommunications and transportation. We tend to take these for granted, but without them the whole economy could grind to a stand-still."

The survey also finds that workers who are aware of a pandemic plan at their workplace are more likely to report for duty than workers with no knowledge of a pandemic plan. However, only a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) indicated that their employer had a pandemic plan in place. "The creation and communication of pandemic plans, as well as the provision of preventative flu medicines, would encourage workers to report for work, enabling businesses and the broader economy to function more effectively," said Professor Holburn.

The survey included utility and regional/city workers, transportation workers (including public transit, trucking, shipping and courier), banking, communication providers (telephone, mobile, cable and IT), grocery/food warehousing and medical product manufacturers (including pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, warehousing and distribution). Together, these sectors account for approximately 20 per cent of the economy - valued at more than $220 billion in 2006 and employing more than 3 million workers.

The national survey, conducted by Leger Marketing and sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, used a combination of telephone and online interviews with 1,300 workers in fields which are considered critical services sectors, and with 700 workers in healthcare fields. More key findings are included at the end of the release under "Note to the Editor".



Antiviral resistance is an important factor in planning for a pandemic. In response to recent reports that some strains of the H5N1 virus are resistant to oseltamivir (marketed under the trade name Tamiflu), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has changed its stockpiling strategy to decrease the share of oseltamivir from 90 to 80 per cent and increase the share of zanamivir (marketed under trade name Relenza(R)) from 10 to 20 per cent.(1) In the U.K., an influential group of scientists has recommended the government modify the national stockpile to 50 per cent zanamivir and 50 per cent oseltamivir.(2)


History shows that influenza pandemics have occurred three to four times per century.(3) Scientists believe pandemic flu viruses develop in two key ways. First, a new subtype can result from the mixing (or "re-assortment") of human and avian viruses, which is what scientists believe started the last two influenza pandemics in 1957 and 1968. Because humans had no defense against the new strain, it spread rapidly around the globe, causing widespread illness and higher rates of death compared to seasonal influenza. These pandemics each resulted in more than one million deaths globally.

Second, a new pandemic strain can develop if an avian influenza virus changes (or mutates) into a virus that can cause human illness and spread easily from person to person. This is likely how the "Spanish flu" killed between 40 and 50 million people worldwide in 1918 and 1919, including about 50,000 in Canada.


GlaxoSmithKline - one of the world's leading research-based pharmaceutical and health-care companies - is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer. In Canada, GlaxoSmithKline is among the top 15 investors in research and development, contributing more than $176 million in 2006 alone. GSK is an Imagine Caring Company, and is consistently recognized as one of the 50 Best Employers in Canada. For company information, please visit

NOTES TO EDITOR - Flu Pandemic Survey, conducted by Leger Marketing

About the Survey

    -   A 13-minute survey was conducted between August 7th and August 23rd,
    -   With a national sample of 2,000 respondents, results can be
        considered accurate to within +/-2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
        When looking at either critical industry or healthcare workers
        separately (1,300 and 700, respectively), results can be considered
        accurate to within +/-2.7 and +/-3.7 per cent respectively.
    -   Critical industry workers comprised of: utilities or city regional
        workers such as water, electricity, gas, garbage collection, parks
        and recreation, city hall and mail delivery; transportation such as
        trucking, shipping, courier and public transit; banking;
        communication providers such as telephone, mobile, cable and IT;
        grocery and food warehousing; and medical product manufacturers
        involved with pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, warehousing and

    Key Findings on Infrastructure/Critical Industry Workers

    -   Over half of critical industry workers are concerned about the
        possibility of a pandemic flu outbreak in Canada, and two-thirds
        think an outbreak is likely.
        -  Quebecers are the least concerned about an outbreak, while older
           Canadians and those who believe they have an important role to
           play during a pandemic situation are more concerned.

    -   Those who work for an employer with a pandemic plan in place are more
        likely to report to work during a pandemic flu outbreak.
        -  90 per cent of workers are likely to report to work if their
           employer provided them with preventative flu medicines in the
           event of a pandemic flu outbreak.

    -   55 per cent of workers are aware that there are medicines which can
        reduce or prevent the impact of pandemic flu.
        -  Only 35 per cent of critical industry workers get an annual flu

    -   If a flu pandemic was affecting people in their city or town, workers
        in Ontario are most likely to consider going to work, as are workers
        who are familiar with their role during a pandemic. Quebecers are
        least likely to report to work during an outbreak in their city, as
        are those with children at home.

    (1) The Congress of the United States, Congressional Budget Office. A
        Potential Influenza Pandemic: An Update on Possible Macroeconomic
        Effects and Policy Issues. May 22, 2006; revised July 27, 2006: 13-14
    (2) The Royal Society & the Academy of Medical Sciences, Pandemic
        influenza: science to policy, November 2006

or an interview in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver, please contact: Peter Schram, GlaxoSmithKline, (905) 819-3363; NATIONAL Public Relations, TORONTO, Megan Spoore, (416) 848-1383,; MONTREAL, Dan Brennan, (514) 843-2325 ext. 3332,; CALGARY, Karissa Boley, (403) 444-1486,; VANCOUVER, Claire Munroe, (604) 691-7393,

Posted: December 2007