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Friday, 3 July 2009

Swine Flu Etiquette

Health Minister Burnham's announcement of yesterday, that there is a doubling each week of swine flu cases in the UK, that the pandemic is now out of control, and that there is likely to be 100,000 new cases a day by the end of August, is not good news. There are 8,000 cases, roughly, in Britain as of this Friday. That means by start of August, there would be over 128,000. That would be a million and rising by September, and, if the current model holds, everyone in the UK, more or less, would be infected by November. This scenario is terrifying. People with low immune systems will die, and there are not enough respirators to keep a fraction of oncoming pneumonia cases alive. Ask your friends in health provision about how many oxygen tents would be required to keep people alive.

Further, if large swathes of the total population are incapacitated, even for the 7 days or so that is required, civil society will bend if not break. A new etiquette, or some guidelines, need to be put in place. I have been speaking with intelligent people in positions of authority about this, off the record. The feeling is, by August, if not sooner, public gatherings may need to be avoided or cancelled - cinema, concerts, Mass, readings, and classes.

It may be that, in the early autumn, it will be morally repugnant to require healthy people to report to work, when they would be required to travel publicly and expose themselves to the disease. I understand the default reply is, this is a mild disease. Tell that to pregnant women, diabetics, and people with HIV, for which this is genuinely life-threatening. Also, indigenous peoples, and those with low immunity in the third world seem genuinely at risk. It is callous and glib to now avoid the conclusion that this is a convulsive, terrifying and challenging moment for the world. It seems to be absurd how people are still behaving normally. I suggest we stop shaking hands, kissing, and avoid activities which lower immunity - so, no more drinking or smoking.
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