Monday, September 26, 2005


By Darryl Mason

Last week as President Bush toured hurricane disaster zones in Texas and Louisiana, he spoke of the need for the US military to “take control” in the event of another national disaster, which would include a bird flu pandemic.

Bush visited Northern Command, the military bunker where the movement of more than half a million active and National Guard soldiers can be controlled and coordinated in the event of a massive national disaster.

Bush also visited the Randolph Air Force Base where, in a pre-arranged discussion before the US media, a Major General John White talked up the idea of creating a national response plan for mass disaster, with the military in key roles.

Bush said he liked the idea, and cited the disorganisation that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a reason why such a plan may have great value.

Although Bush said it would be up to Congress to consider the circumstances where Northern Command and the Department of Defence would become the lead agencies for disaster response, it was clear he had already decided the military would be deployed should another massive hurricane threaten the country.

“ there a natural disaster of a certain size that would then enable the Defence Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort?” Bush asked, rhetorically.

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said the president intended to establish “a very clear line of authority” should the US be hit with another major catastrophe.

McClellan cited “an outbreak” of bird flu as being one kind of catastrophe that should see a military response and co-ordination role.

"You need to mobilise assets and resources and logistics and communications very quickly to help stabilise or contain the situation," McClellan said. "The organisation, in the president's mind, that has the capability to do that is the Department of Defence."

McClellan was clear in citing “an epidemic” of bird flu being the kind of situation that Bush would see as being worthy of a military response, which would essentially place the Pentagon in control of the entire country, via Northern Command.

Last week, Indonesian authorities called the spread of bird flu and the deaths of at least five people “an epidemic”.

At least three stops on the Bush disaster zone tour were to purposely place the president in the locations where he would be seen should a massive catastrophe strike the US again and the military was needed.

One specific location was the Northern Command bunker, strengthened to withstand a direct nuclear strike, earthquakes and hurricanes. There are at least 60 such bunkers scattered across the US, inside mountains, under airports, and both below and close to the White House.

Bush spent his vacation reading a book about the flu pandemic of 1918 that saw upwards of 50 million people dying around the world, or 20% of the world’s population.

Within days of returning from his vacation Bush was talking about the global threat of bird flu and how the US needed to take the lead in both fighting and controlling a deadly pandemic.

Bush remained fixated on the threat of bird flu through his six stop tour of hurricane ravaged states and discussed pandemic scenarios with Northern Command staff during hurricane rescue and recovery briefings.

If Congress does not object to Bush’s plan to invoke military rule of the US during a national disaster, then the president would be free to take command of all states and counties, bypassing local officials, following the first human bird flu deaths in North America.



Chemists across Australia are running out of anti-virals stocks and hundreds of customers are now on months long waiting lists.

The much publicised anti-viral Tamiflu has proven to be most popular, despite courses of the drug costing up to $50 each.

The federal government has spent more than $100 million of taxpayers money stockpiling some 4 million courses of anti-virals, and have compiled a priority list in the event of an outbreak.

Naturally, senior government ministers are at the top of the list, though no minister has confirmed whether family members will also be given anti-virals. Emergency health workers will be dosed up, as will funeral industry workers and select members of the Armed Forces.

Health Minister Tony Abbott said the government stockpile would protect a million workers in “essential services” for six or so weeks.

The UK government has a priority list that includes senior government ministers and a curious assortment of corporate heads and chief executives, along with a selection of media personalities who will be expected to help contain the panic if a pandemic breaks out.

Tamiflu is made by Roche, they have now doubled production of the anti-viral in Australia but warned recently it could take up to a year to make the drugs.

Roche is now the target of growing campaign aimed at forcing the corporation to give up its patent on Tamiflu so a generic version can be mass produced all over the world.

But some virologists have warned that as a human-to-human strain of bird flu has not yet shown itself there was no guarantee the anti-virals would work on everybody who took them. There was also the possibility of the virus mutating further once it was active in humans and growing beyond the control of anti-virals like Tamiflu.

In the end the Australian government may have spent $100 million amassing the world’s largest stockpile of a drug that doesn’t work.

The problem is, virologists have claimed, we won’t know whether the anti-virals will work for most people until it is too late, until that is when a bird flu pandemic has begun.



The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that hundreds of people gathered to watch the mass slaughter and burning of dozens of pigs in a Javanese village in July this year.

The Indonesian Agriculture Minister, Anton Apriantono, warned reporters that they should be wearing masks to protect themselves as they witnessed the pig cull.

“This is very dangerous,” the minister announced, “...the virus can be transmitted through the air.”

“Don’t blame me if you get bird flu because you don’t have a mask,” he said.

The slaughter of pigs and ducks in the Tangerang region, close to Jakarta, took place after Ivan Rapei and his two young daughters died with symptoms of heavy pneumonia. Mr Rapei was confirmed to have been infected with the bird flu virus.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported tests completed in April showed pig farms with infected with bird flu, but that no official culls were ordered.

17 of the 22 Indonesians quarantined over the weekend lived in Tangerang or in areas near Jakarta.

The World Health Organisation now claims that Indonesia’s refusals to conduct mass culls in bird flu infected areas made the country the bird flu “hot spot” in a global campaign to avert a pandemic.

WHO officials claimed Indonesia has known for months that the virus was “entrenched” in the poultry populations.”

WHO claims the start of a pandemic could begin when a person has both a normal flu virus and the avian influenza strain at the same time and a genetic exchange occurs between the two viruses.

The Sydney Morning Herald claimed that the Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta was kept open for at least two days after half of the exotic bird collected showed positive test results for bird flu. Hundreds of expatriates visited the zoo unaware of the bird flu outbreak, taking part in a charity fun run.

More than a hundred zoo visitors were refused treatment for flu-like symptoms at Jakarta’s main infectious disease hospital last week. They were told to come back if the symptoms grew “more serious”.

Health minister Siti Fadilah Supari now says the possibility of human transmission of bird flu was inevitable, after earlier denying such infections were possible.

Criteria for a mass cull, where compensation from the Indonesian government would be due, has been set at an infection rate of 20% for all poultry in one farm. No mass culls have taken place, claims Indonesia, because no farms have shown such a rate of infection.

Arguments now rage in the Indonesian government on whether the country is suffering through an epidemic of bird flu. Many government ministers fear public announcements of an increased threat from bird flu would reduce tourist numbers and impact negatively on the economy.



The Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has expressed his alarm at Indonesia’s slow response in dealing with a human outbreak of the bird flu virus and has upped the donation of anti-virals to some 50,000 doses after originally scheduling only 10,0000 doses last Friday.

Only days after the World Health Organisation said there remained only a short time before a human pandemic of bird flu virus began, Downer appeared disturbed on Australian television news this evening as he said Indonesia was find the outbreak “difficult to handle”.

"I think they have been caught a bit short, to tell you the truth,” he said.

Downer claimed Indonesia was getting better organised, through the support of the WHO, but Indonesian officials are still refusing the basic WHO guidelines that call for mass bird culls in areas where deaths from the bird flu virus has occurred.

The outbreak of bird flu is expected to head agendas at the November Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, and the December East Asia Summit.


The AP news service reports tonight that only $20 million out of a proposed $100 million UN fund to fight the spread of bird flu has been pledged by the world’s richest countries.

The $100 million is being sought for the vaccination of poultry and to fund international analysis of bird flu virus samples from countries already infected, including Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Vietnam has seen the highest death toll in humans with 40 succumbing to the virus since human infections began in early 2003.

The Indonesian outbreak, labelled an epidemic last week, is the focus of the world fight against bird flu but officials are resisting international calls to spend the tens of millions of dollars needed for mass culls of poultry and the quarantining of bird flu infected villages.

Indonesian government officials have repeatedly stated the threat of bird flu is a problem for the whole world, not just Indonesia.


Reuters news service reported today that Iran is gearing up for an outbreak of bird flu, although the government has claimed it has not found any infected poultry.

"We will most probably get the bird flu carried by the millions of wild birds that are on their way to Iran," said Behrouz Yasemi, spokesman for Iran's veterinary authority.

During the winter, millions of ducks, waterfowl and wild geese migrate into northern Iran’s lakes and wetlands.

So far the Iranian government has warned poultry farmers to keep their stock isolated from wild birds and has collected and tested 1700 samples. Behrouz Yasemi told Rueters they are yet to find a single infection.

"We have not got it yet, but we plan to be prepared for it when it arrives in our northern provinces," he added.

Iran successfully dealt with a previous bird flu outbreak in poultry during 2003 by placing a ban on all bird products imported from East Asia.

Stopping wild migrating birds from mixing with poultry will prove much more difficult.

The Iranian government has formed a bird flu committee bringing together veterinary experts and members of the ministries of health, agriculture and the environment.

The committee recently announced a nationwide ban on hunting wild birds and banned the importation of bird products from both Kazakhstan and Russia, where outbreaks of bird flu has already killed millions of wild birds and poultry.

The governments of Russia and Kazakhstan have, in reply, banned all bird products imported from Iran.


The Jakarta Post said today few new measures have been taken to contain the spread of bird flu almost a week after government officials called the outbreak “an epidemic”.

Even in areas where the virus has killed humans no mass culls have begun, despite international calls and growing pressure from the World Health Organisation.

Poultry farmers are reluctant to do their own culls without compensation from the government and are complaining about a shortage of vaccine for poultry.

The bird flu virus is believed to have infected two thirds of country’s provinces, with high concentrations of poultry massed in towns through the provinces of Java and West Sulawesi.

Two weeks ago more than 1500 egg-laying pullets died in a matter of days in the town of Tulungagung, but no new supplies of vaccine have arrived for the surviving poultry population of two million.

Farmers are demanding free vaccine for their birds after a lack of compensation following mass poultry culls in the district during last year’s outbreak.

In Southeast Sulawesi more than eight million farm birds need to be vaccinated, but only 200,000 doses of vaccine have been distributed so far.

Indonesia has more than one billion poultry across its 33 provinces, and some 300 million free-range chickens. 60 percent of Indonesia’s entire poultry is concentrated in Java, the most densely populated area outside of Jakarta.

WHO guidelines demand a mass cull of all birds in a three kilometre radius of any bird flu infection in poultry.

Indonesia refuses to initiate the mass culls, claiming there is a lack of funds to compensate the farmers.


The Jakarta Post reported tonight that five of 21 one people quarantined over the weekend at the Sulianti Saroso Infectious Disease Hospital in Jakarta have been released following negative tests for bird flu infection.

Sixteen patients remain in the hospital suffering bird-flu like symptoms.

Basic tests from a five year old girl who died last week proved negative for bird flu, but a final confirmation wont be given until full results are confirmed by a laboratory in Hong Kong on Thursday.

Two weeks ago there were only four hospitals assigned to treat bird flu victims in Indonesia. This has now been dramatically ramped up to more than 40 hospitals, although there remains a lack of essential equipment such as respirators.

Indonesia is now waiting on a promised delivery of 10,000 doses of Tamiflu from the Australian stockpile of 3-4 million, the largest per capita in the world.




The death today of a 27 year old woman from bird flu has raised the Indonesian toll to a suspected six victims.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters that the 50,000 doses of anti-virals that Australia was ‘buying’ for Indonesia would “give the Indonesians the capacity to deal with the problem, at least in the short-term."

"I think they've been caught a bit short, to tell you the truth, and they're
finding it difficult to handle," he said.

The Australian site reported today that anti-viral medications were being distributed through Indonesia’s population, but supplies were greatly limited and the distribution was at a crawl.

Downer criticised Indonesia for its slow reaction to the bird flu outbreak and said he hoped the involvement of the WHO would speed up the distribution of anti-virals.

It has been announced that Australian Quarantine officers have seized more than five tonnes of poultry and bird products at Australian airports alone in the past twelve months.

Screenings of flights entering Australia from bird flu infected countries have turned up thousands of eggs, thousands of moon cakes, hundreds of kilos of egg noodles and more than 60 tonnes of feathers.

Despite such protective measures, there is nothing that can be done to stop migrating birds infected with bird flu entering the country.

"No country either can, or for that matter should, try to stop birds migrating,” said Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, “...birds do move between Australia and other parts of the the seasons change."


According to the Jakarta Post, Indonesian Hotel and Restaurants Association (PHRI) chairwoman Yanti Sukamdani Hardjoparkoso has raised the alarm about the potential impact of the bird flu outbreak on tourism, and in particular a feared downturn in visitors to Bali.

She cited the Ragunan Zoo, where at least a hundred people, including a school group of thirty children, are believed to have been exposed to virus infected birds, as an example of how poorly the Indonesian government has handled the outbreak thus far.

"People may never want to visit the zoo again after the government was so wishy-washy about whether the place was safe from bird flu or not," Yanti told the Jakarta Post.

Ragunan Zoo was closed on September 19 after twenty out of some thirty birds tested were found to be positive for the virus.

Yanti said it would only take one tourist to fall ill for the bad news to spread and begin to affect the vital tourist industry.

She said tourists were more afraid of an outbreak of disease than they were of a terrorist attack. Yanti called for measures to be taken now to halt the spread of bird flu, rather than trying to repair the damage once it was done.

Indonesia’s lacklustre response to the bird flu outbreak is now raising fears that the infections might be more widespread than they have so far announced. Indonesian government officials are refusing to initiate mass bird culls across the two thirds of the provinces already infected.



Rueters news service reported on the weekend that the Australian government is stepping up measures to prevent an outbreak of bird flu by targeting migrating birds from Asia now arriving in the far north of Queensland.

"Certainly they are a potential risk," Carson Creagh, spokesman for the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, told Reuters.

But while many birds from Indonesia land in areas like the north western town of Broome, in the Northern Territory, some birds fly straight down to the eastern coastline.

Blood samples are now being taken from migrating birds in the far north Cape York region of Queensland, but tests have not yet turned up positive for bird flu.

While migrating birds could bring bird flu to Australia, United Nations research has shown the greatest threat comes from visitors carrying poultry or bird products, all of which are banned by Australia's strict quarantine laws.

Regardless, Australia reported more than five tonnes of poultry and bird products were seized from visitors arriving at international airports during the past twelve months.

There was also a threat from unusual medicinal practises using bird products, such as drinking the blood of an infected bird or “sucking the mucus out of the nostrils of fighting cocks”, according to Rueters.

Flights into Australia from 11 countries are now being screened in order to stop passengers from bringing poultry and bird products into the country.

Barbecued chickens, duck meat, chicken feet and duck tongues have been found in passengers luggage, despite numerous warnings during flights into Australia, and a string of warning signs and dumping stations leading up to customs desks.

X-ray machines, detector dogs and bag inspections are used to screen luggage and bags.

Hundreds of millions of dollars will now be spent overhauling the security of Australia’s airports.

Saturday, September 24, 2005



As of 3pm, Friday, Sydney time, at least twenty people, including five children, have been quarantined in a Jakarta Hospital, showing severe symptoms of the bird flu virus.

Panic has spread amongst visitors to the now closed Ragunan Zoo, where at least two children are believed to have contracted the bird flu virus.

The World Health Organisation is urging Indonesians not to panic.

A spokesperson claimed today the increased number of people with bird-flu symptoms did not necessarily mean the outbreak was spreading, or growing.

Reports on claim some 115 people who were at Jakarta’s Raganun Zoo in the days before it closed have turned up at the Jakarta hospital with symptoms, but have been turned away because they were not sick enough.

The hospital has limited resources and equipment to quarantine the sick, and at least one report out of Indonesia indicates the quarantine wards are already full.

An unknown number of patients were admitted in the early hours of this morning, ranging in age from one years old to fifty five years old.

Farmers who owned chickens that died last week have also arrived at the hospital seeking anti-virals and a confirmation on the symptoms they believe they are now exhibiting.

The Indonesian government’s claim of an epidemic on Wednesday was retracted Thursday and WHO spokespersons are backing away from their claims earlier in the week that time was running out before a bird flu pandemic begins.

Experts are flooding into Jakarta today for emergency meetings, to assess the situation as it stands and to discuss plans to contain the spread of bird flu.

Neither the Indonesian Government, the UN or the WHO are willing to announce that the bird flu virus has mutated into a form that can spread easily between humans, but curiously the WHO have come up with a theory for the cases where it appears almost certain the virus was passed from one family member to another, and was not contracted from contact with infected birds.

WHO's representative in Indonesia, George Petersen, told Rueters, "I think very close contact with a sick person might infect that caretaker. That is why in hospitals we need to take all precautions ... That would be, in a way, a human-to-human transmission, but that demands close, close contact"

Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO global special representative on avian flu, said there was so far no biological evidence for the increased chance of human-to-human transmission, despite the rising number of people under observation and in quarantine.

"With increased surveillance, it's not unusual that you would pick up more cases."

Only 10,000 doses of Tamiflu, the anti-viral medication believed to be able to fend off bird flu infection, have been made available to Indonesia from the World Health Organisation stockpile.

Australia has donated another 10,000 doses from its stockpile of 3 million plus.

In Jakarta an eight year old has been confirmed as having bird flu, but tests are being sent to Hong Kong for confirmation, which can mean a delay of two to three days. This means there are two to three days where the virus can spread further between family members who had close contact with the boy and may already be carrying the virus.

WHO toned down its warnings of the previous week that the world was on the brink of disaster, with bird flu likely to soon mutate into a form that can spread easily through the human population. is claiming the number of patients admitted to Sulianti Saroso Hospital has been doubling daily, a clear sign the bird flu infections have increased.

But WHO press releases, issued almost on the hour today, are claiming there is no indication a pandemic has begun, and the increase in admissions to the Jakarta Hospital are due to an increased awareness of the virus and of the symptoms amongst nervous Indonesians.

Midday. September 23, 2005

Jakarta Post reports today at least 15 people showing signs of bird flu infection have been hospitalised at Sulianti Saroso Hospital, where two young girls have died in the past few days.

Hospital officials claim all fifteen now in quarantine had visited the Ragunan Zoo that was closed last weekend, after some 20 birds were found to be infected.

An eight year old boy was admitted with acute respiratory problems and a high temperature. The Sulianti Saroso Hospital has a shortage of respirators that will help the infected to breathe easier. Some reports say the hospital only has four respirators in total, and one has now broken down.

One patient now under surveillance had not visited the zoo. An office worker in Jakarta’s CBD, he claimed the only contact he has had with birds was in feeding the ones that visit his office block balcony.

On SBS World News, the coffins of the two dead children were shown being sealed, to prevent the spread of the bird flu virus.

Thursday, September 22, 2005



Above : Five year Riska died on Tueday in Jakarta from flu-like symptoms, two days after being admitted to a specialisedinfectious disease hospital.

There is confusion over the cause of death of five year old Riska Hardiyanti. Indonesia claims initial tests showed negative for bird flu, but full tests can only be completed in Hong Kong. The results are expected by the weekend.

Riska died of acute pneumonia, claims the Indonesian Health Minister, Siti Fadilah Supari. First tests showed negative for bird flu but full tests are being evaluated in Hong Kong.

Nine patients are quarantined in Jakarta hospitals.

The World Health Organisation warned of a “catastrophic pandemic”.

Australia will fund the purchase of 10,000 doses of anti-viral Tamiflu for Indonesia.

Japan is slaughtering 1.5 million chickens. Tests in thirty one poultry farms have tested positive for bird flu and are under quarantine.

More than 10 million birds are estimated to be infected in Indonesia.

A two year old girl died with flu-like symptoms at Jakarta’s Cikini Hospital. Test results have not been announced.

A nine year old girl is in hospital quarantine in Jakarta with symptoms after visiting the Jakarta Zoo last week. The zoo was losed over the weekend after exotic birds died from the virus.

Confusion reigns over whether or not there will be mass culls of poultry in infected areas of Indonesia. Arguments between Health and Farming ministries continue over what percentage of poultry in an area must show bird flu infection before culling becomes mandatory. Last week, Indonesia said it did not have the money to compensate farmers after mass culling. Yesterday they announced there would be limited culling.

Vietnam has reported 40 human deaths from bird flu in the past two years, but no new human infections in the last few months. Yesterday Vietnam announced it would stockpile Tamiflu and increase monitoring for bird flu at more than 800 hospitals.


SEPTEMBER 22, 2005

The World Health Organisation is preparing to open its stockpile of anti-viral drugs to fight a bird flu pandemic. This will see the WHO deploying teams with courses of anti-virals to any area where a pandemic outbreak in humans has been confirmed.

The World Health Organisation claims publicly it has a stockpile of 80,000 treatments courses of the anti-viral oseltamivir (Tamiflu) that it can use to try and head off a pandemic, but WHO has not specified the length of the treatment courses. No anti-viral medication have been 100% proven to stop a bird flu pandemic in humans, as the virus will keep evolving, mutating, through the flow of infections.

Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyanto has announced mass culls of poultry in districts believed to be “"highly infected" with avian influenza, after the announcement of an bird flu epidemic in Jakarta yesterday.



September 22, 2005

The Jakarta Post yesterday reported “something approaching panic” across Indonesia. The mass perception is the bird flu outbreak, in poultry, is growing out of control.

Fear has infected the society and even free-range chicken farmers are feeling the effects, finding few buyers for healthy birds.

The Ragunan Zoo in South Jakarta appears to have had a major psychological impact on the middle and upper classes of Indonesia. Poultry farmers and traders have had no illusions for months as to the seriousness of the bird flu outbreak, but it is only in recent days that office workers in Jakarta have grown very concerned about what is going on.

In Jakarta and East Java residents who keep a few chickens for eggs have been seen releasing the birds or killing them in fear of contracting bird flu.

A public warning from the government added to the ongoing public awareness campaign and it is impacting. One family in East Kalimantan demanded a vet vaccinate their cat against the virus.

Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said of the bird flu crisis today, “This can be described as an epidemic. These (cases) will happen again as long as we cannot determine the source.”

The UN health agency announced last week there was little time before human to human infections began.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced plans to cordon off areas where bird flu outbreaks originated.

The Jakarta Post reported this would mean shutting down towns or villages and using the military to prevent entry or exit of civilians from the area suspected of being infected with bird flu.

The WHO wants a mass cull of all poultry, in all Indonesian provinces, but Indonesian Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono has told Reuters there would only be culls where a bird flu outbreak was serious. He defined “serious” as being an area where more than 20% of the birds were infected with the virus.

These areas are yet to be identified and the WHO is bull-horning that time is running out and that Indonesia cannot afford to wait for bird flu to show itself in any greater volume.

Sardikin Giriputro, deputy head of the Jakarta Hospital where five year old Riska died yesterday said, “The symptoms were heavy pneumonia, the same as bird flu symptoms. Her family confirmed to us that she had contact with dead chickens.”

Other reports deny the family said this, though this will be hard to confirm immediately as the family has now been quarantined.

All six Indonesian deaths related to bird flu have occurred in the vicinity of Jakarta.

The Indonesian government installed a state of high alert on Monday. Authorities now have the power to forcibly hospitalise anyone showing symptoms of bird flu. This will be extremely difficult, as the initial symptoms are no greater, or more visible, than common flu.

A zoo worker and two food vendors from the closed zoo are now hospitalised and under being tested for the presence of bird flu.

No new cases have been reported in recent days in Vietnam, which has already seen at least 44 deaths after contact with infected poultry. In Thailand twelve people have died since the outbreak began almost two years ago.

After the emergency cabinet meeting, the Minister of Agriculture Anton Apriyantono admitted infected zone culls and farm isolations were not going as planned.

"We admit that the outbreak is difficult to contain as its source is still unclear," he told the Jakarta Post.

Mass culls are now planned, but the widespread habit of keeping a few chickens for eggs and eventual meat will make a total cull next to impossible, as the virus would spread faster than the teams could cull birds.

The House of Representatives approved almost $9million to pay for biosecurity and compensate poultry breeders and farmers.

The World Health Organisation said last week Indonesia would need $250 million to do the job properly.

But added to the fear of the virus spreading from farm to farm, and chicken pen to duck hutch, Indonesia is growing concerned about the spread of the virus through migrating wild birds.

This may also be part of the Indonesian government’s disinformation campaign surrounding bird flu (and disinformation will not be rare from any government in the world if a pandemic breaks out).

The Jakarta Post said Ministry of Health officials alluded to the initial poultry outbreak as having been caused by the arrival of migrating birds arriving in Indonesia from infected countries.

The biggest official mystery so far is how the first four victims who died contracted the virus. Such concerns, however, already seem to be fading as a priority. The official Indonesian government line will no doubt keep to the already aired claims the virus came to Indonesia from another country and that it will be impossible for Indonesia to stop its spread completely, as it is now “a world problem”.

The World Health Organisation has said it will be difficult to contain bird flu in a country the size of Indonesia, with more than 100 million people living in harsh poverty.

It is, the WHO said, “a serious situation”.


September 21, 2005

A five year old girl, Riska, admitted to a specialised infectious diseases hospital in Jakarta only two days ago died this morning of flu-like symptoms.

Patricia Doyle, PhD on reported the girl tested positive on her blood test for avian influenza.

The Indonesian Health Ministry denied there was any proof of human to human infection but admitted it was only a matter of time.

Symptoms are appearing in family members of some of the six people already under quarantine.

Patricia Doyle believes the 5-10 day gap between one family member showing symptoms and then another family member showing symptoms would appear to be the key to proof of human to human infection, as the 5-10 day time span acts as an incubation period for the virus in the human body.

Although there are a number of doctors and virologists on line now claiming human to human infection is happening in Indonesia, the government and the World Health Organisation have not yet made the official announcement.

If human to human infection has occurred, and is expected to continue to occur, there must be enormous pressure on the WHO to both keep it quiet and make it public.

Once such an announcement is made, however, all hell will break loose. Even if the virus was to die out, or be contained, the government of Australia, for example, would be widely expected to shut down airports and instigate quarantine procedures for all travellers returning from Indonesia.

Making such an announcement is going to cost a country like Australia millions, if not tens of millions. Nothing, of course, compared to the massive financial carnage wrought by a full blown pandemic, but if the virus is contained within Indonesia there would still be fallout. There would remain many questions like did the government go too hard, too soon? Who compensates the businesses that lost all the money?

The tipping point for an announcement of pandemic bird flu should be about the same time large numbers of people were being qaurantined in Indonesia, and arrivees into Australia were being bustled into the quarantine zones near the airport. It would be hard to keep such activity quiet, people would notice and they would talk.

In the end the internet may do the job for the WHO, where such a volume on information spreads so fast and furiously that the eventual announcement of a pandemic would be something of an encore, as important as that moment would be.

The Indonesian Health Ministry is already saying a bird flu pandemic is not just Indonesia’s problem, it’s a world problem, so the blame will be spread far and wide if a pandemic breaks out.

Patricia Doyle talks of the “virtual certainty of human-to-human transmission” in at least one third of the confirmed cases of bird flu in Indonesia as of yesterday.

The families of the infected appear to have had little or no contact with infected poultry, yet the confirmed cases come from the same area southwest of Jakarta.

Patricia Doyle sees a true horror unfolding due to the primary fact that without the early warnings being issued over human to human infection family members caring for those already infected could themselves become infected and contribute to the spread amongst humans.

The concerns troubling the medical community worldwide following the Jakarta confirmation yesterday of an epidemic is the quality of Indonesia’s identification processes for avian influenza and the accuracy of their tallies for the infected, the dying and the dead.

For example, in a remote Indonesian province where poverty is rife, any number of persons could be dying from bird flu right now, but the doctors treating them might not have the means to correctly identify the flu as avian in origin.

Dying of flu-like symptoms is not rare in a country where farming communities are usually wracked by poverty and preventable disease, where tuberculosis and other respiratory illnesses are anything but rare.

In remote areas the alarm would likely only be raised after a noticeably curious number of people, young, old, fit and infirmed, starting dying.

By then, of course, a pandemic would have already begun.
Indonesia Announces Forced Quarantines For Suspected Infected

Calls For Mass Poultry Culls Resisted

Australian Prime Minister Confirms Quarantine Zones Set Up Near Airports

September 20

Indonesian President Yudhoyono held an emergency cabinet meeting today to rush through hard measures to try and stop a possible outbreak of human bird flu infection from spreading.

Any person suspected of having been exposed to infection will be forced into one of the 44 hospitals that are being quickly converted into quarantine centres.

The Indonesian Health Ministry warned there will be more cases of bird-flu infected humans.

Indonesia is resisting calls by the World Health Organisation for a mass cull of poultry in all infected provinces. WHO estimates Indonesia will need at least $250 million now to start the culls, but the Indonesian government is holding off ramping up the WHO plan.

They don’t have the money and they don’t see such a move as being a total necessity, as the Indonesian Welfare Minister, Alwi Shihab pointed out, “...we cannot take it for granted that this is only an Indonesian issue. This is a global issue.”

Virologist, Dr Alan Hampson told Australia’s SBS World News today, “The virus is spreading at the moment and, I guess, the opportunities are just getting greater and greater for it to actually adapt to humans.”

Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has confirmed the stockpiling of anti-virals and that strict quarantine measures are already in place in Australia, which would includes forced confinement into quarantine zones of the suspected infected.

“I am confident that measures adequate to the threat have been taken but it's one of those things that we must keep our focus on,” Howard told SBS.

In the vicinity of all six of Australia’s international airports, buildings have been fitted out to act as emergency quarantine zones, with an average of 500 beds in each. In the event of a pandemic, thousands of arrivees into Australia will be quarantined for tests to see if they are infected with bird flu.

As in Indonesia, these quarantine zones will be secured by armed guards, not only to keep the suspected infected inside, but to keep out desperate relatives who may try and get in to see their loved ones.

Below : Testing for Bird Flu in Jakarta hospital


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bush Reads A Book On The Deadliest Plague In History

Has Bird Flu Escaped From A Bio Research Lab In Flood Devastated New Orleans?

By Darryl Mason.

GW Bush is not known for being a big reader. If you’re thinking of ‘My Pet Goat’ on the morning of September 11, remember that was being read to him by a school kid while the US was under savage attack by jet-hijacking freedom haters.

But things have changed. The White House issued a short statement a few weeks ago to inform the media that GW Bush was spending the longest holiday in US presidential history catching up on some light reading.

Not ‘My Pet Goat II’ but a weighty tome entitled ‘The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague In History.’

So what’s it about? ‘The Great Influenza’ details the stunning impact of the Spanish Flu pandemic that swept the globe from 1918-1919, and explains how the death toll of 60 to 100 million people changed society and politics across the planet.

There was little warning before the Spanish Flu hit. Unlike most flu epidemics this one killed without discrimination. It laid waste to infants, old people, healthy young men.

If you caught it, you could die within a couple of days, there was no cure. Back then, they didn't even know what was killing millions was an actual virus, they thought it was bacteria.

The book describes how doctors, hospitals, morgues and graveyards were overwhelmed by the endless casualties. It cited the US city of Philadelphia as one example where 5000 people died in a week. Mass rioting broke out, whole streets full of cramped dwellings were torched and corpses were piled in mounds a dozen bodies high. They were tossed into carts and transported to mass burial sites.

In some European cities, entire towns were burned to the ground, with the dying still in their homes, to try and contain the spread of Spanish Flu. Ships were torched in harbours before passengers could get to land. The author of ‘The Great Influenza’ described how ships still at sea were blocked from entering ports and became “floating caskets.”

The flu virus originated in animals but mutated quickly and crossed over into humans. Exactly the scenario now forcing the World Health Organisation to make claims that the threat of a bird flu pandemic in humans was not a case of If but When.

Some details of the book make for uncomfortable reading today, and no doubt GW Bush had some sleepless nights as he worked his way through its pages.

The global conditions that encouraged the spread of the Spanish Flu have some striking parallels to our own time.

Of particular significance were the overcrowded military, refugee and evacuee camps of World War I that gave the virus plenty of bodies in which to thrive through the last days of that war.

For today’s world, think of Iraq’s ‘Green Zone’, the post-Katrina camps and shelters across 20 US states and the numerous trailer parks filled with millions across Africa.

Massive troop deployments also encouraged the spread of Spanish flu, as the rotations of troops through Iraq and Afghanistan would encourage a pandemic to spread further, farther, if it were to break out today.

A lack of capable medical facilities, vaccine and a shortage of doctors and nurses also helped the 1918-19 death toll to move into the tens of millions. There are few countries in the world today that can honestly claim to have a universal public health system that could cope with a bird flu pandemic.

Australia’s health minister Tony Abbott doesn’t even try to deny that the death toll would be enormous and that there is little his government can do to help those infected.

Then, as now, the sick will be quarantined in their homes and left to die.

In Australia the Spanish Flu killed an estimated 20,000 people out of a population of four million, and that was in the days when interstate travel was virtually unheard of for the majority of people.

Incredibly, hundreds of young Australian men who had survived the incomprehensible horrors of World War I returned home only to catch the flu and then, quickly, die.

In Australia, schools, churches, concert halls, theatres, train stations, public squares, pubs, were all locked down. Farms, factories and city business districts ground to a halt as people fled to the country to escape the pandemic. They only succeeded in transporting the virus to rural Australia, where it killed as effortlessly as it had in heavily populated city centres.

Two weeks ago, GW Bush returned from his holiday reading to find his country awash with at least 300,000 people crowded into camps and shelters across some 20 states. He has already declared a State of Emergency that encompasses more than two thirds of the US, and some 80,000 troops and support crews (including deployments from Mexico, Canada and Israel) are on the ground in at least four states smashed by Hurricane Katrina.

New deployments of National Guard to Iraq and Afghanistan are being cut back, soldiers are being recalled from the war zones and the Department of Defence is calling for at least 3000 volunteers from within their civilian ranks to deal with an unspecified ‘crisis’ in the homeland.

In Q & As with journalists as he toured the Hurricane Katrina disaster zones, Bush made reference to “a possible avian flu pandemic” and how the US would cope with such an outbreak. He was short on details.

Finally, in the days following Hurricane Katrina, the US Centre For Disease Control issued guidelines on how the many bioresearch labs and facilities in the Katrina disaster zones should go about reporting lost, damaged, compromised or stolen ‘stock’.

One such bioresearch facility in central New Orleans is located on the campus of Tulane University. The facility was flooded. Amongst the active bio-agents listed in its ‘stockpile’ that have been possibly lost, damaged, compromised or stolen was avian influenza.

On The Brink Of A Pandemic?

Australian Health Minister's Advice : Die In Your Homes

By Darryl Mason

The Australian Health Minister, Tony Abbott, speaking on ABC's Lateline two weeks ago was blood-chillingly honest as he spelled out a worst case scenario for a bird flu pandemic in Australia.

Every major threat to a nation needs a catchy moniker, or ready made headline, and Abbott has come up with an absolute corker for the possible bird flu death fest. He’s calling it : 'The Biological Tsunami'.

Abbott was clearly nervous as he explained how the anti-virals that should hold off infection were non-existent for the majority of Australians, even though the government had "cornered" the world supply in a massive buy-up late last year.

The main problem with the current anti-virals is they don’t act as a vaccine and so you need to keep taking regular doses. Once a bird flu pandemic begins you would need to get the anti-virals into you on at least a few times a week, if not daily, for the duration of the expected pandemic, according to Abbott.

Even if the government has a stockpile of a few million courses of anti-virals, this would only be enough to safeguard some twenty or thirty thousand people, at the most, for the crucial months of an unfolding pandemic.

So who gets the anti-virals? Emergency health care professionals are way up there, along with funeral directors, hearse drivers and, presumably, coffin makers, mass burial trench diggers and crematorium stokers.

The government has spent $160 million on anti-virals, face masks, ‘quarantine facilities’ (or morgues with beds), millions of hypodermics and other bits and pieces, but nearly all the money has gone towards measures that will keep alive the select few needed to centralise control during an all out pandemic.

The government programs in place are meant to try and contain the outbreak, not stop it. Once a bird flu pandemic hits Australia, it will spread and kill in legion and the only thing the government can do is to try and keep down the death toll and stop the pandemic from utterly consuming the nation. Hence, ‘quarantine facilities’.

As for a massive public advertising rollout to educate the masses about how to spot symptoms, avoid infection or how to care for dying friends and family members, forget it.

“....all the money that we need to spend on preparedness that we can usefully currently spend we have spent," said Abbott.

If a pandemic hits Australia we won’t be completely abandoned by senior government ministers dosed up on anti-virals and secured away in sterile hotels surrounded by moats full of fire.

There are plans for “mobile teams” (whatever they are), home quarantine and "home treatment". This is part of Abbott's plan to ensure hospitals aren’t completely over-run by terrified Australians drowning on their own phlegm and mucus.

The short version of Abbott’s plan?

Die In Your Homes.

With a mortality rate of over 40%, as estimated in some World Health Organisation reports, dying at home would be far more comfortable than queuing outside a hospital, if they were even open, as an estimated 2000 people per week succumb to the virus in a worst case scenario.

And if you're an Australian and you’re thinking of rushing down to the local pharmacy to stock up on a few months supply of anti-virals for yourself and your family, think again.

"First of all the supply in pharmacies is very limited and second, the quantity required to protect yourself for the duration of a pandemic is simply not going to be there," Abbott said.

You need courses of anti-virals week after week to ward off bird flu infection once it crosses over into humans, but according to Abbott, “....there's nothing like the kind of antiviral stockpile anywhere in the world that will fully protect people..."

For now Tony Abbott is hosing down the panic of a possible pandemic in Australia by claiming the likelihood of such an occurrence is "probably only 10 percent on a best estimate."

However, the director of the World Health Organisation’s communicable disease department, Dr. Jai P. Narain, told Reuters, "We may be at almost the last stage before the pandemic virus may emerge."

According to Dr Narain it’s not a question of if an influenza pandemic will actually occur, the only question worth asking is When Will It Happen?

On Lateline, Abbott vagued on about “thousands and thousands” of dead Australians as he discussed government plans for a bird flu pandemic. His own government’s estimates block out near 100,000 dead.

Still worried about terrorism?

On the scale of projected death tolls from a bird flu pandemic, a conga line of bomb-laden freedom haters sliding stolen tanks into schoolbuses doesn’t even rate.

Said Abbott of the death toll from a pandemic, "'s hard to imagine any terrorist attack - short of a nuclear bomb in a major city - that would have a comparable impact."

The last time a major flu pandemic hit Australia was in 1918, during the last days of World War I. It killed more than 40,000 Australians, hundreds of thousands fell seriously ill.

Abbott has been reading up on those days and he gave us a preview of what we might be in for.

Schools closed down, churches shut their doors, factories halted most production, public areas emptied, or were locked down to prevent gatherings in an attempt to stop the human-to-human spread of the flu virus.

"Medical facilities couldn't cope,” said Abbott, no doubt a scenario familiar to the health minister in today’s slashed-and-burned public health system.

He continued
: “There was widespread social breakdown, as people abandoned their posts concerned about their health. Now this is a pretty scary scenario...."

“A pretty scary scenario” is why the government now has to load up senior hospital staff, hearse drivers and crematorium stokers with the anti-virals. So as to lessen the likelihood of these necessary workers running screaming into the night if people start dropping all around them.

While medical facilities and health systems are far more advanced today than back in 1918-19 when the Spanish Flu pandemic raged, this benefit is countered by the increased travel of Australians from state to state, city to city and town to town.

When young Australians went to World War I, it was the first time many had been more than 100 miles from their birthplace.

If the bird flu takes seven to ten days to show itself in an infected person, the concept of locking down all travel, even town to town travel, across the whole of Australia for seven to ten days or longer, is incomprehensible.

For example, who’s going to deliver the pizzas on Friday nights during the footy?

Bird flu has killed tens of millions of chickens across Asia and the Russian states. Some 67 people are estimated to have died from the bird flu virus in the past two years.

In Indonesia, infected chickens are dropping across two thirds of the provinces. The World Health Organisation recommends mass culling of all poultry as the only viable way to halt the spread of the virus in poultry.

Indonesia is reluctant to initiate such a Colonel Sanders-like poultry holocaust because farmers will expect to be compensated and the government doesn’t have the money.

Such a cull is also impractical. More than half of all poultry in Indonesia lives in suburban backyards and on small farms, not gathered together in the millions in football field sized factories, as in Australia and the US.

To wipe out all poultry, Indonesia would need, literally, tens of thousands of bio-suited workers going house to house to completely contain the spread of the virus.

Indonesia has clocked up at least seven confirmed human deaths from contact with bird flu infected poultry, though they’re not yet ready to say whether it has mutated into a virus that can spread amongst humans.

If an outbreak in Indonesia is confirmed, flights from Indonesia to Australia will cease. Visitors and tourists returning home to Australia will find the border closed and they will be locked up in a quarantine zone close to the airport for two or more days. There is currently room for about 3000 people to be quarantined at six stations located next to international airports around the country.

A vaccine is in the works, but no country in the world is claiming they will have one ready tested before Christmas.

Yet there are rumours of a herbal cure to the bird flu getting arouud.

That’d be right.

The senior politicians, ‘essential business leaders’ and selected media talking heads (to keep us reassured) get the anti-virals and we muckers have to make do with a steeped tea that smells like old man piss.

For the record, the bird flu virus has not yet officially mutated into a strain that can spread through humans, though such mutations can’t be completely ruled out from having already happened in Indonesia.

Any human bird flu outbreak will likely see government’s sitting on the news for at least a few days while they arm themselves and set up a defence perimeter around their anti-virals stockpile.

Despite the World Health Organisation’s standard ‘Oh My F...king God!’ blunt statements about the corpse world that could soon become our reality, there is no shortage of virologists trying to get the media to show the other side of the story.

This may not actually be the last days before a pandemic. It might simply be a massive display of hard-core fear factoring, media over-excitement and political arse covering.

At its insidious worst, it might also be a massive public relations psy-op designed to send everyone charging for a flu shot, or the last case of anti-virals.

It’s a sad fact of our globalised, greed-fixated, world that even if a pandemic broke out, many stock investors are going to make a lot of money betting on biotech. Whether they will be around long enough to enjoy their profits is another thing altogether....

Today, bird flu is not pandemic. It may be tomorrow, yes, but then again, maybe it won’t.

So relax, sit back and build your immune system up the natural way, by lowering stress and eating healthy, washing your hands like an obsessive compulsive and staying well clear of sneezing chickens.

And don’t go dwelling too much on the title of the book President Bush was reading on his August holiday :

‘The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague In History.’

An excellent book, by the way.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

New Orleans Drowned While Homeland Security Chief Was Briefed For Hours On Bird Flu Pandemic Preparations

By Darryl Mason.

Reports now indicate that the chief of US Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, was so distracted by the threat of a bird flu pandemic in the US that, for almost 40 hours, he was not aware the city of New Orleans had flooded and tens of thousands of Americans were in dire need of rescue.

The Knight Ridder Agency reported on September 15 that Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, went ahead with bird flu briefings on Tuesday, August 30, as some 30,000 men, women and children screamed for help in the streets of New Orleans and a hundred thousand more Americans pulled themselves from the wreckage of their homes across Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown, told the New York Times that he had repeatedly tried to reach Chertoff the day after Hurricane Katrina hit to alert Homeland Security that the situation was spiralling “out of control.”

The intricate web of bureaucracy meant neither Brown nor the governors of the affected states could call in the resources of the Army, Navy and the Marines to deal with the epic scale of the national emergency.

Such an order for a full-scale rescue and recovery operation had to come from Chertoff himself under the recently overhauled National Response Plan.

Before firing off the memo necessary to unleash a full scale rescue and recovery by federal troops, Chertoff was briefed for hours at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on bird flu and how the US might respond to the national emergency of a spreading pandemic.

The National Response Plan designed to cope with everything from terrorism to hurricanes to volcanic eruptions and disease outbreaks, such as bird flu, is now being torn to shreds in Washington and hastily rewritten.