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Saturday 26th May 2018

Swine flu and infectious attitudes

16th July 2009

Political writer Michael White comments on swine flu and the performance of Handy Andy Burnham.


There comes a time when even a “keep calm” column has to acknowledge that Britain seems to be edging towards a swine flu pandemic.

There has already been panic in Fleet Street and ministerial warnings against such things as “flu parties” so the young can get it over with.

I was reading Hilary Mantel’s historic novel Wolf Hall where a key character’s child dies of the plague on a visit to London.

In the 16th century, as in the 20th century, the young were most vulnerable.

Generally, politicians have been more sensible than the media over swine flu with Whitehall cross with some reports.

The prediction of 100,000 cases a day by late August has come with a policy shift from containment to a treatment-based strategy.

Handy Andy Burnham has been giving regular updates while for the Opposition, swine flu has a delicate balance of holding government to account while not scoring cheap political points.

A sensitive point has been the friction between the four UK health administrations but I believe the big test will come if GPs, primary care trusts and hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of patients (2,000 hospitalisations a day are projected) and staff sickness.

Mr Burnham has issued guidance on when to start cancelling elective surgery locally.

In China, both imperial and communist, emperors are judged on how they deal with flood and earthquake.

My impression is that Emperor Burnham is doing OK.


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