THERE HAS BEEN a lot of talk lately about global contagion. With the banking crisis the talk of an epidemic is a metaphor. The risk with the swine flu scare is that it turns into a genuine pandemic.
This inevitably throws up the specter of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the worst of modern times. Forty percent of the world’s population was infected and 50 million people died. In 1957 the Asian flu virus, mutating from a strain found in wild ducks, killed 2 million people. A flu outbreak in 1968 in Hong Kong killed up to 1 million people globally.
So this is no idle threat. The pertinent question, then, is how prepared are governments in the face of the threat?
The initial responses of the multinational arms of government were as prompt as one could expect of such cumbersome bodies and reassuring as a result. The World Health Organization (WHO) met in Geneva ... and the Director-General has said the threat constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. The European Commission called an urgent meeting of health ministers to discuss the situation. The World Bank is providing Mexico with more than $200 million in loans to help it to deal with the outbreak.
A test on a Canadian woman in Greater Manchester turned out to be negative. But two cases already have been confirmed in Airdrie in Scotland. Public concern is natural. For the moment, we can do no better than follow the rather homely advice of the Health Protection Agency: people should cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, throw away dirty tissues promptly and wash hands and surfaces that are regularly touched.