WHEN A KILLER flu emerges in the east, international health watchdogs seal off entire Asian cities. But when a killer flu emerges in the west, they roll over and go to sleep.
Q: What should world health watchdogs do when a new killer virus appears?
A: First, ask yourself: is it in a clean city or a dirty one? Dirty cities are defined as places where most inhabitants don’t speak English, aren’t white, and don’t drink recommended brands of designer coffee.
Q: What do they drink in Mexico?
A: They grow their own coffee, so Mexico goes on the dirty list, just like Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak.
Q: But I’ve been to Hong Kong. It’s quite clean.
A: You don’t get it, do you? The dirty list simply means people who are not like us.
Q: Oh, I see. Now what?
A: Well, if the epicenter is a place on the dirty list, that is, a city in Asia or Central America or Africa, encourage panic. Get people to shut the borders. Get the media hyped up about killer pandemics. Put up travel advisories preventing anyone going. Make sure insurance companies stop coverage for those places. Most importantly, hire people to run around in radiation suits.
Q: Wow. Does swine flu give you radiation sickness?
A: No, you fool! It just looks good. It makes people think we’re doing something.
Q: Okay. What about countries on the clean list? There are loads of outbreaks in the United States, and quite a few in Canada. What do we do about them?
A: Yes, nothing.
Q: Oh. Shouldn’t we seal the borders and stuff?
A: Don’t be ridiculous! People in North America wouldn’t stand for that sort of thing.
Q: Shouldn’t we at least check the health of people leaving the US and Canada? So it doesn’t spread?
A: Certainly not. It would cause inconvenience. Remember SARS in 2003? When the virus circulated in Hong Kong, the city was sealed off. But when it circulated in Canada, we told everyone to calm down and not over-react. No borders were shut. No-one was expelled. Everyone was encouraged to act normally.
Q: Was the Canadian SARS virus milder than the Asian one?
A: No. It was the same thing. It killed 43 people.
Q: Sir, the swine flu virus is all over the world now. If we had taken decisive action and sealed off North America as soon as it started, or at least demanded health checks on outward bound passengers, couldn’t we have prevented this becoming a world-wide problem?
A: Yes, probably. But you have to be practical about these things. Are you honestly telling me that you would ask North Americans to cancel their golf trips, just because they have a virus that might be the pandemic that finally destroys humanity? Be reasonable, man.
Q: Sorry, sir. My excuse is that I’m feeling a bit feverish. I hope I don’t have swine flu!
A: Take a holiday. Fly to Asia. If you have swine flu, we’ll just put up some travel advisories and seal off the place. One has to take decisive action, you know.