When the so-called swine flu hit Mexico, then the U.S., officials on either side of the Pacific chose quite different courses of action:
- After an initial panic, officials here generally decided we couldn't stop it, and it was just the flu. It was repackaged as A1N1 virus so as not to offend the pigs. I joined in the chorus.
- In China, the panic was continuous. My own plane in Shanghai was welcomed by the gang from E.T., complete with biohazard containment suits. Every food worker wore a mask. Anyone too close to a suspected victim was quarantined.
Now, of course, the World Health Organization considers the flu "unstoppable." This flu may indeed be more dangerous than any strain since the 1918 pandemic. South America is going through a swine flu winter and the fear is real this germ will mutate into something we can't deal with.
American officials are trying to play catch-up. We're still not ready to shut schools when flu season hits in earnest this winter, but now demand for the A1N1 shots is expected to exceed supply, despite an unprecedented production effort. The government now offers a flu planning checklist.
China's media is still trumpeting swine flu panic, still playing the quarantine game, but the time has now come to ask a very hard question. Was their attitude toward this and ours wrong? Had the U.S. acted as China has, might this have been contained?
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com