Swine flu was as elusive as WMD. The real threat is mad scientist syndrome Remember the warnings of 65,000 dead? Health chiefs should admit they were wrong – yet again – about a global pandemic by Simon Jenkins, The Guardian
Six months ago I reviewed the latest bit of terrorism to emerge from the government's Cobra bunker, courtesy of Alan Johnson, home secretary. Swine flu was allegedly ravaging the nation. The BBC was intoning nightly statistics on what "could" happen as "the deadly virus" took hold. The chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, bandied about any figure that came into his head, settling on "65,000 could die", peaking at 350 corpses a day.
Donaldson knew exactly what would happen. The media went berserk. The World Health Organisation declared a "six-level alert" so as to "prepare the world for an imminent attack". The happy-go-lucky virologist, John Oxford, said half the population could be infected, and that his lowest estimate was 6,000 dead.
The "Andromeda strain" was stalking the earth, and its first victims were clearly scientists. Drugs were frantically stockpiled and key workers identified as vital to be saved for humanity's future. Cobra alerted the army. Morgues were told to stand ready. The Green party blamed intensive pig farming. The Guardian listed "the top 10 plague books".
If anyone dared question this drivel, they were dismissed by Donaldson as "extremists". When people started reporting swine flu to be even milder than ordinary flu, he accused them of complacency and told them to "wait for next winter". He was already buying 32m masks and spending more than £1bn on Tamiflu and vaccines. Surgeries refused entry to those with flu symptoms, referring them to a government "hotline" where prescription drugs were ordered to be made available without examination or doctor's note. Who knows how many died of undiagnosed illness as a result? Lines were instantly jammed. It was pure, systematic government-induced panic – in which I accept that the media played its joyful part. Read more...