The World Health Organization is "very, very close" to declaring swine flu a global pandemic as its flu experts hold an emergency meeting in Geneva.

The experts will recommend whether to raise the alert level from phase five, which means that a pandemic is imminent, to phase six, the highest level.

The trigger would be if the experts confirmed that the A(H1N1) virus was being freely transmitted among the population on more than one continent.

Community spread has already been confirmed in the Americas, where the disease first broke out. WHO officials are now reported to have been alarmed by a sudden spike of cases in Australia, and also by rising numbers in Europe.

The move would have no implications for the public, but could prompt governments to take extra prevention measures, such as imposing travel bans and ordering more vaccine production.

"Once I get indisputable evidence, I will make the announcement," said Margaret Chan, the director-general of the WHO, who held a tele-conference with the worst hit countries yesterday.

Keiji Fukuda, the assistant director-general, added: "We are very mindful of what is going on in Australia and a number of other countries, and I will simply say that we are getting closer (to declaring a pandemic)."

Continue reading at the Times of London