Passengers arriving in Australia would be subjected to thermal screening for fever and those on an aircraft found to be carrying someone suspected of having bird flu could be held at the airport quarantine centres, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Saturday.

The hangars can accommodate up to 500 people and the government has already purchased beds and linen to equip them, a spokesman for the Health Department said.

"In some situations, large numbers of people arriving at the border may need to be quarantined from others, to prevent transmission of pandemic influenza," the spokesman said.

The government plan would be put into operation if bird flu mutated into a human-to-human virus and posed the risk of a pandemic.

Fears of spreading

Scientists fear that millions could be killed if the fatal H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which is contracted through bird-to-human contact, began spreading from humans to humans.

"In some situations, large numbers of people arriving at the border may need to be quarantined from others, to prevent transmission of pandemic influenza"

Health Department spokesman

Nearly 70 people have been killed by the virus in Asia since late 2003.

Australia has had no recorded cases of bird flu and Prime Minister John Howard warned the public not to panic over the scare.

"There is a risk, but we shouldn't panic," Howard told public radio.

However, Australia on Friday said it was considering banning all live bird imports after three pigeons certified healthy by Canadian officials tested positive for avian flu antibodies.

Shocking failure

Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran ordered an immediate ban on all Canadian bird imports and summoned Canada's ambassador to his office to explain what he called a "shocking" quarantine failure from an advanced country.

But Canadian officials played down the incident, saying the tests showed only that at some stage in their lives the birds had contact with one of several types of a virus in the bird flu family.

Judith Bosse, vice-president of science at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said the agency tested the birds before they were exported and found they bore no bird flu virus.