The Aporkalypse

I really don’t know what to think about H1N1, or Swine Flu as it’s known to it’s friends. Egypt is culling the country’s pig population, despite no cases ever being detected there. On the flight from Beijing to Hong Kong I took yesterday, a full 2/3rds of the passengers were wearing surgical masks, despite only 3 people in China having caught the flu, with no deaths (out of 1.3 billion people). And if you think the masks were an over-reaction, you’ll be interested to know that the security and customs staff at Beijing airport were all wearing them as well, as were the flight attendants on the plane.

The world-wide death toll from the diseases has reached 160. Many other diseases are killing people much more rapidly.

The media alternates rapidly between announcing imminent doom and saying the whole thing is a beat-up, designed to distract us for the recession.

Certainly the World Health Organisation is playing it pretty cool, by not imposing compulsory screening for travelers – and this is getting the Chinese really fired up.

I don’t know much about the latest case of Swine Flu discovered in China – it was only announced today – but the other two cases were unfortunates who had contracted it in the States and then travelled to China.

All week on all television stations the planes, trains and hotels the two infected guys had used were broadcast in ticker-tape across the bottom of the screen, along with instructions to call the authorities if you had used these services as well. Apparently the same information has been txted to me as well (I can’t read it).

But what the Chinese seem to really want is for American’s travel privileges to be controlled, to stop the spread of the disease.

The Americans are being seen as the major spreader of the disease, as all Mexican flights were cancelled weeks ago. Not that many Mexicans would be interested in coming here at the moment actually, as few weeks ago people with Mexican passports were being summarily thrown in quarantine just for being Mexican. Not having been near Mexico for years is no excuse. Eventually the Mexican Government charted a plane to fly to Beijing and evacuate anyone with a Mexican passport who wanted out, stopping at a few other Chinese cities on the way back. Chinese news showed them all being carted to the airport in convoys of ambulances, despite none of them actually being sick.

To try and move all this along, an American can no longer get a rushed visa for China – it now must take the maximum 7 days to process (though I’m unsure how this will stop the spread of disease). But the editorials of the local papers are furious with the WHO for not being more draconian, and want more done immediately (without being too specific about what ‘more’ is).

As for me, I had my temperature taken when I went to the gym earlier this week – a new requirement of entry. I’m fine. And Piglet is still my friend.

(and as a postscript – when I arrived back in Beijing we all sat on the tarmac while health officials took everyone’s temperature on the plane, using a tool that looked like a James Bond brainwashing device. 2 people were led away for further investigation.)