RUNNY NOSE ALERT: Autopsy of the Coming Pandemic

This just out!

Twelve new cases of the H1N1 virus have been discovered at the very upscale St. Paul’s Convent school on Hong Kong island this week. These are the first local victims of the illness, adding to the fifty of so cases already reported in the territory, none of whom have left Hong Kong in the past weeks. Cliquer ici pour la version française.

Today, June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization has raised the threat level associated with the pandemic to 6. In early afternoon, Hong Kong authorities announced the closure of all primary educational institutions in the territory. More than 500,000 students are affected by the mesure. Click here for a detailed article on the subject.

For the next two weeks, Hong Kong theatres will be filled to overflowing from Monday to Friday. The skating rinks, usually empty during the week, will be invaded by novice skaters. Forget about quiet walks on the beach.

What do the parents have to say? Think about it. Everyone twelve and under at home for two weeks before the beginning of holidays. What to do? Who will take care of them? If this happened in Quebec it would cause consideration commotion.

Of course, the situation in Hong Kong is different. More than 10% of families have a maid at home. But what about the others? How will they organize themselves with so little advance warning. Is this not an extreme measure which ignores the problemes of working parents?

Hong Kong : Life in a Sardine Can

Since the SARS crisis of 2004, Hong Kong does not fool around on matters relating to health care. The population density of the territory has reached 6000 residents per square kilometer—heaven on earth for viruses.

Face masks are required in most of the hospitals and clinics in Hong Kong. Liquid soap dispensers are found in all public places and residential areas. Elevator buttons are sterilized several times a day. The borders of the territory are watched over by a team of nurses. The body temperature of visitors is observed with care.

It’s social suicide to have a nasty cough in Hong Kong. Strangers do not hide their contempt. An old lady made me put on a face mask, scolding me in public like a naughty child. This is the somewhat paranoid atmosphere in which the government decided on the most recent measures to contain the pandemic.

When the first case of H1N1 was discovered in April 2009, the government did not hesitate to put an entire hotel—including its staff—under quarantine for a week. The comings and goings of a Mexican tourist in Hong Kong were followed by all the Hong Kong tabloids. At the Metropark Hotel, the lobby quickly became a scene from a reality TV show. The young tourists closed up inside asked to speak with the public amassed outside by telephone. Click here for scences of some of the action. The government of Hong Kong was much criticized for having gone to such extreme measures.

Then, during April and May, a few Hong Kong students reported via Facebook or Twitter that they had been quarantined on returning to Hong Kong from their foreign studies. Never before had a Canadian or a US stamp in a passport been such a bad omen.

When a Virus Becomes the Subjet of a Patriotic Debate

Chinese blogs I’ve been reading over the past few weeks suggest that rapid reaction to the H1N1virus is a matter of national pride. All media are used to spread information about the virus. Click here to learn more about the use of Twitter and here for information on the pandemic in China. Many Chinese have called for Chinese currently studying or working in North America not to return to China for the summer.

From this angle, Hong Kong is serving as a good example, applying the lessons learned during the SARS crisis. One must admit that their reaction has been extremely rapid, and that this will probably minimize certains risks.

We parents, however, will have to get through it somehow. Two weeks. Two whole weeks.

Valérie Nichols, beseiged in Hong Kong

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