New Powers for Medical Health Officers over Swine Flu


I should have seen this one coming from a mile away. While a lot of people still have their heads in the sand, the New Zealand Government have made Swine Flu a notifiable disease. In itself, that just makes sense, but in fact according to a NZ Herald story this morning, this means that they have authority to demand that people isolate themselves at home, or face fines or mandatory isolation in hospital or worse. 

There are many things to start thinking now, even if you still think it won’t happen to you. If you are isolated at home, do you have everything you need for at least a week? Will this mean that your family that lives with you or your flatmates will also have to stay home too? After all they will be at a higher risk of also getting infected. So if your whole house is quarantined, how do you get your basic supplies like bread and milk?

If pundits are right and it effects up to 60% of the population, or even only 10% are isolated, what happens to business? Grocery stores and other retailers who are in spittle distance of their customers will be at high risk because they are dealing with large volumes of people all day.

The schools represent a high risk, they have always helped spread illnesses, if one child has the measles, flu or any other contagious disease, it is a given that several others will also get it.

If people disobey the isolation requirements, then there are even greater risks, because this group will very likely carry the virus, so I have no problem with the mandate. However, the risk of people not obeying the rules is also high. In today’s economy, people don’t want to risk losing their jobs and many will continue to work because they need the money. In my office for example, staff get 5 days of sick leave a year, which is pretty easy to bite into if you have a flu or cold. There are people who will therefore have no sick leave, or not enough available and don’t want to use their holidays, but can’t afford to be sick without leave, so for as long as they can, they will continue to work.

Schools have been given detailed instructions on what to do in the case of an outbreak, including hygiene instructions, but in my opinion, most businesses are thinking that Bird Flu went nowhere and Swine Flu will do the same, so they aren’t taking precautions and they don’t have contingency plans should a large group of staff fall ill. The air conditioning systems will do a good job of spreading the virus, and some businesses may have to cease trading for several weeks, because while the illness might be gone in 7 days or so, people won’t be considerate enough to all catch the Swine Flu at the same time. 

Of course they could go to a Swine Flu Party. What sort of idiots would do something like that? Well it appears they are, using the same rationale that moms use when their friends children have chicken pox, “Let’s get it over with now”. The problem with Swine Flu is that unlike traditional flu, the virus has no respect for age or health and is capable of killing people of all ages and of course the domino effect would hasten the spread of this nasty illness. 

The new powers aren’t just a NZ initiative however, the same is occuring around the world, in Australia, Mexico of course and most other countries are now drafting legislation that will help them try to fight this problem.

So, are you ready? Do you still think it won’t happen to you, your friends or family, or perhaps your work mates? How prepared are you?

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