Wednesday, September 21, 2005


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.


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