The pandemic – why it ain´t what you thought it was

(Printed in issue 4 of www.thereader.es)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed that we are on the brink of a swine flu pandemic that will sweep the world. However, in conversations with local residents we realised, to our horror, that most people do not know what a pandemic is!

Cases across Europe have “soared”, from possibly 80 to almost certainly 106; confirmed deaths in Mexico have, in a perplexing twist to the case that nobody can explain (possibly having something to do with Tequila) dropped from “believed to be around 500” to “could be 29”. This latest news caused the WHO to raise their World Pandemic Alert from phase 4 to phase 5 (out of a possible 6) and setup a dedicated website entitled THE SWINE FLU PANDEMIC – PREPARE TO DIE ALONE.

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), acting on medical advice, advised British citizens overseas to stay at least 5 feet away from anyone at all times, which rather put a dampener on my friends stag do in Prague, and under no circumstances shake hands with any dirty foreigner fella unless he was covering his mouth when coughing.

An FCO spokesperson confirmed that it was vital to drum into people the correct usage of the word “pandemic”, preferably via large headlines in the press. This TheReader.es reporter, armed with masks, gloves, tissues and a small bottle of whiskey (no rubbing alcohol being found in the medicine cabinet) went out into the wilds of Almería to find out what people thought “pandemic” meant.

Phil O’Lancer, 23 from Essex, rather cockily told this reporter that it meant “millions of deaths, bodies piled up in the street, large red X’s daubed on people’s doors and lime filled plague pits”. Imagine his embarrassment, and the laughter of his more world weary friends, when informed that the WHO actually defined it as “over 6 people confined to bed with Lucozade and a slight temperature”.

His girlfriend Jane said that she was somewhat disappointed not to have seen soldiers in the streets patrolling with tanks and dressed in full white, biohazard suits. “Like, ya know, in that film when the monkey escaped? Because the monkey had a disease? Or sommat? Ya know?”

Yes Jane, we know. However, it appears that Guardia Civil officers at the nations airports have been reissued with machine guns and Franco era “take ’em out back if they cough / look at you funny” orders, which is at least a relief to those of us unable to find surgical masks at short notice.

A spokesperson from the WHO clarified the subject for us. “A Pandemic is classified as any infectious disease that infects over 100 people in at least three countries. We use the word Pandemic as a technical term, made up of the greek words “Pan” (everyone) and “demic” (scare the whatsit out of)”.

When it was pointed out that under this classification it could be claimed that there is currently a Pandemic of thinking that Gordon Brown was doing a good job managing the economy, he shut up. Although he did, later and somewhat weakly, point out that making a fuss over that wouldn’t “sell newspapers”.

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