The virus was spread by birds. Twenty-five million people died. First, it infected the pigs, where the virus could mutate. Then it infected the humans. Eighteen months after appearing, the virus vanished completely.
Sound like a projection of the possible devastation of the current bird flu threat? Maybe an extract from Stephen King’s apocalyptic novel The Stand? Neither. It’s a brief account of the 1918-19 influenza epidemic.
A high-level Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, on the latest avian flu, was attended by more than 100 experts from the Asian and Pacific region in Brisbane recently. The subsequent press conference, addressed by Foreign Affairs spokesperson Doug Chester, served to summarise the main points of the meeting.
Mr Chester used the term “economies” instead of the word “countries” when speaking, as business leaders and international organisations attended, as well as representatives of the various APEC countries. The non-APEC countries of Burma, Laos and Cambodia also attended. The World Health Organisation (WHO) was also in attendance.
At the APEC conference, Mr Chester stated the consensus was that much unnecessary scare-mongering about the avian flu had occurred. Many of the economies attending had expressed concern about this, and effects it might have on their economy.
Mr Chester stated that no formal document would be issued as a result of the meeting. The outcomes of the conference would be reported to the APEC summit, in Busan, South Korea, in two weeks time. A decision on the results of the meeting would then be made by the heads of the APEC countries.
The meeting assessed the emergency plans of the economies attending. It emphasised the need to address the source of outbreaks. Theoretical exercises would be conducted in the first half of 2006, to test the interactions and preparedness of the economies involved. A regional cooperation mechanism needed developing.
After Mr Chester had finished speaking, it was question time. Somebody asked if a multinational response team would be formed. Mr Chester responded that nothing had been formalised. Somebody else asked how many economies didn’t have emergency strategies. Mr Chester replied that Papua New Guinea didn’t have a strategy, and a number of other economies were still finalising theirs.
During the questions, Mr Chester stated that at least one economy planned to withhold anti-viral from the general population, as healthy personnel were needed to keep essential services operating. It was asked from the floor, which economy planned to do this. Mr Chester preferred not to say. He seemed agitated, his eyes blinking rapidly several times. A TV reporter then asked if it was Australia. Mr Chester’s press secretary then called a close to the conference, and the question remained unanswered.
The Australian meeting was not merely a duplication of WHO’s previous meeting addressing the causes, possible effects and required research pertaining to the current bird flu. The APEC meeting addressed regional interaction and the economic effects of a possible epidemic. Everyone agreed the economic consequences would be catastrophic, as the region is drastically unprepared for such an outbreak.
The final decision from the results of this meeting will be tackled at the APEC heads meeting, in Busan, South Korea, in mid-November.
11th Nov 2005