Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Swine Flu Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Barbados recorded its first death from the H1N1 (aka 'swine flu') virus this week (see Associated Press (AP) report). Reports indicate that the number of confirmed cases is now over 100 persons; I know two of them intimately. All of a sudden, the sniffly nose and the sore throat and the slight headache may signal more than I wish it did. My little princess has had impressed on her for months now the importance of her personal hygiene, especially hand washing. I went off for a few days in Jamaica and she had the sniffles at the time; so too did I. At that time, one friend had already alerted me that she had been diagnosed with swine flu and was in quarantine. By the time that I came back, a week, later, another friend's child had also been diagnosed. It's so ironic that I can live for years in Africa with no contagious disease hitting me or my family and then ploops here in Barbados I'm a nose away from the latest pandemic.

Barbados and other tourist destinations would seem especially prone to this kind of disease, welcoming as it does hundreds of thousands different people each year. But, in the Caribbean we are not accustomed to taking the kind of precautions that help prevent the spread of such diseases. We are not so comfortable with rigid rules that would affect people's simple movements. For that reason, we will see a less than fulsome application of warnings: I arrived in Jamaica and was handed a form about the virus; I arrived in Barbados and received nothing--this was after the first death, now. I saw no signs prominently displayed warning visitors about the disease. Several months earlier, on visiting Anguilla, I had had to complete a form detailing my recent visits to see if any of them could have put me into contact with the virus. I get on a plane in the region and there are no precautions evident that would do anything about air borne spread of the virus, as if there is something really effective, though we could be like Asian travelers and wear masks. I see no signs at schools that are known to have the virus present warning visitors that it is present. And so on. Perhaps, we just are happier muddling along, feeling that modern medicine will whip up what we need if we are afflicted.

The furore over fingerprinting at ports of entry in Barbados gives an idea of how people feel about any invasion of their privacy, and we are a bit touchy in that respect in the region

I do not feel especially at risk as I travel around in general and no more at risk in the region. My recent trips to the US indicated that we are on a par with the great USA. I have not been to the UK recently, where the virus was taking a notable hold: during the summer I read reports that the first UK death was recorded in mid June, but by mid July deaths had reached 29 there, and just this week the UK began shipping an approved swine flu vaccine, Pandemrix (see AP report). I have quipped a few times about the risks Barbados faces through its close association with the British tourist, but in the case of swine flu, it's not really such a facetious notion. British fears were probably calmed by the Chief Medical Officer cutting the estimated maximum (worst case scenario) death toll to 19,000 from 65,000 a few months ago (see Daily Mail report). He noted that the figure could be as low as 3,000; that lower figure would be less than half the total for the regular winter flu. This is in stark contrast to more alarming figures cited by politicians some days earlier

You know you cannot run or hide from the spread of diseases such as this, and the sense of panic that often comes seems misplaced while you experience nothing directly. I did not panic when I heard that one of my close acquaintances was infected, but I was more alert to symptoms. Maybe that's all one can do. I will still kiss and hug people as I often too, and I wont ask if they have washed their hands or check with whom they have had contact before I plant my lips on their cheeks. But, I will be vigilant about my child's habits, hoping that good lessons learned will keep her safe in the viral pit known as school

Tourists are notoriously fickle, but I do not get the impression that many are not travelling because of the swine flu scare; maybe that is because the recession had diminished numbers already. Travellers do not like to get sick when abroad so it may start to dawn on people that they should do some checks on local medical facilities. But that too is something that does not sit well with the idea of going off for a good bit of sun, sand, sea and sex. The prospect of getting AIDS is perhaps a keener deterrent to most travellers. So, an already hard year for tourism is not likely to get much worse.

As I write, I hear no coughs from anyone in the house. Everything is as quiet as a mouse. I hope that it stays that way.

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