Sunday, June 10, 2007

"Climate Of Fear" Expected To Smash Asian Economies When Bird Flu Pandemic Hits

Even a short pandemic, of only a few weeks duration, killing a few thousand people, is expected to absolutely devastate the economy of the country most unfortunate to suffer such a fate.

What makes economists so nervous about the dreaded H5N1 pandemic is that the idea of a "short pandemic" is fiction. The World Health Organisation, and most recently Australian health minister Tony Abbott, talk of pandemic 'waves' lasting a few months each, with perhaps as many as three or four subsequent 'waves' in the next two or so years.

The economic devastation comes from such a wide array of financial impacts it's almost impossible to sum them up briefly. But the short version is this : when people start dying of bird flu, and a pandemic level outbreak is announced, most people will stop going to work, and public gatherings and public transport systems will be shut down, to halt the spread of the infection.

People won't be going to the mall, but there won't be people to serve them or stock the shelves even if they did go. Now imagine that paradigm across every aspect of the social and business life of a city, or large town.

The "climate of fear" under discussion in the story below also includes the possibility of widespread panic, and subsequent extremely negative economic impacts that follow, even when the human death tolls are low, and the spread halted quickly.

Well, the World Health Organisation has spent three years now scaring the crap out of people about how dangerous and deadly H5N1 can be, and how careful people need to be around poultry birds that may be infected. Of course there is going to be a "climate of fear", the WHO helped to create this reality.

From Hindustan Times :
Asia-Pacific health ministers said on Friday that a "climate of fear" that accompanies the outbreak of infectious diseases such as bird flu could have a devastating impact on Asia's economies.

The APEC Health Ministers conference in Sydney ended on Friday with a commitment to share virus specimens and vaccines and to work to encourage investor and consumer confidence to help Asia-Pacific economies recover in the event of a pandemic.

"The climate of fear that disease outbreaks such as avian influenza bring can rapidly sap the confidence and enterprise that underpins the economic dynamism of our region," Australian Health Minister Tony Abbott told the conference.

The health ministers endorsed a plan called "APEC Functioning Economies in Times of Pandemic Guidelines" which aims to assist in managing economies during a pandemic. The guidelines cover communications, essential services, financial systems and movement between and within countries.

"We recognise that healthy populations contribute to economic growth and development. Conversely, any threat to the health of a population can have a devastating effect on prosperity," the ministers from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum said in a statement.

The ministers said that the Asia-Pacific needed to replicate the co-operation seen during the SARS respiratory crisis in 2003 to combat the threat of a bird flu pandemic.

"The global nature of pandemic influenza and other virulent disease demands international solidarity, co-operation and co-ordination of efforts...for the sharing of information and resources," said the ministers.

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