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Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

October 5, 2005

AVIAN FLU:  'FRIGHTFULLY MUTABLE'...AND MIGRATING 

KEY FINDINGS

**  Outlets contemplate risk of "mutation" and potential for "global pandemic." 

**  East Asian sources seek "resources and wisdom" through international cooperation.

**  Negative commentary related to low vaccine production, distribution, and storage.

**  Some say media has "exaggerated coverage" about the threat of a pandemic.

MAJOR THEMES

Threat of mutation creates 'chilling picture'--  Outlets stressed the danger of "unpredictable mutations" that could turn the avian flu virus into a "human to human killer."  Papers were divided about the chance of a pandemic;  New Zealand's Timaru Herald and Australia's liberal Sydney Morning Herald expressed uncertainty, but the Taipei Times and New Zealand's Christchurch Press claimed the question is not "if" but "when."  Despite admitting that the mutation for human transmission is the "only thing missing," enigmatic aspects of the avian flu epidemic allowed some writers to speculate, as one analyst suggested, a "pessimistic estimate" of "as many as 50 million victims."  

'Pandemics do not respect international borders'--  Thailand's moderately conservative Bangkok Post credited President Bush for "trying to boost the worldwide fight that is necessary to prepare for a possible human influenza pandemic."  Though global media criticized "slow progress," Germany's centrist Der Tagesspiegel contended that "international cooperation will be decisive in the end to prevent a looming disaster."  Asian sources demanded "prompt and transparent communication" and emphasized "preparedness," "awareness," and a "scientific solution" to prevent the spread of avian flu.  Singapore's pro-government Lianhe Zaobao commented, "It is only through regional meetings such as APEC we can hope to gather resources and wisdom to find a solution."

Vaccine highlights North-South gap--  Some editorials seized on potential problems surrounding the vaccine.  Argentina's Clarin, the Taipei Times, and Indonesia's Jakarta Post all claimed that the vaccine is stored in "the warehouses of the rich countries," and therefore "developing poor countries will suffer a lot more."  One writer advised that an "international stockpile of antiviral drugs" be established to "[make] a vaccine available in affected countries in Asia."  Hong Kong's South China Morning Post stated, "Less than 50 governments...have submitted plans with the WHO for dealing with a pandemic.  Most are wealthy Western nations--not the Asian countries where the...virus has spread."    

'Coverage has made society panicky'--  One observer noted that "information and technology" must be used correctly to "avoid unreasonable confusion and fear."  Indonesia's left-of-center  Waspada accused the mass media of "exaggerat[ing] coverage about the bird flu virus."  Another writer called it a "challenge" to "provide information without spreading alarm....  The competing tendencies are 'it won't happen here' complacency, 'there's nothing we can do' fatalism, or 'no precaution is too great' alarmism."

Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, rmrmail@state.gov

EDITOR:  Sarah Reed

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment.  Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion.  Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet.  This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government.  This analysis was based on 28 reports from 18 countries September 9-October 1, 2005.  Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.    

EUROPE

GERMANY:  "The Virus Is Coming"

Centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin noted (10/1):  "It sounds like a perfect horror scenario:  UN expert David Nabarro warns that up to 150 million people could die if the avian flu 'leaps' from animals to human beings.  Is this panic-mongering?  There are three aspects indicating that there is really reason to worry.  First, the avian flu is the largest animal epidemic that has ever been registered.  It is likely that the dissemination of H5N1 will sooner or later 'learn' to adjust to human beings.  Second, in the course of the time, the virus has become increasingly dangerous....  Some people died of it, even though the virus does not yet jump from man to man.  Third, when we look at history, we can see that pandemics appear on a regular basis....  So there is reason to be vigilant.  But nevertheless, we are not as helpless as we were in the past.  Quick action with the right drugs could help contain a pandemic.  Since the virus does not know any borders, international cooperation will be decisive in the end to prevent a looming disaster." 

ITALY:  "Mad Cow Syndrome Looms Over Poultry Industry" 

Turin's centrist La Stampa commented (Internet version 9/25):  "The nightmare is that avian flu might trigger a spiral of fear, alarmism, and fall-off in consumption that will repeat the negative impact of mad cow syndrome in the poultry rearing industry, which is currently worth 4.5 billion Euros and is the sole self-sufficient sector, providing jobs for 180,000 people.  Negative signs are already being seen: The news about avian flu is not affecting consumption trends in the rest of Europe.  'Only in this country has a situation of uncertainty and alarm, which is swaying the Italians' purchasing habits, come about,' Aldo Muraro, chair of the National Union of Poultry Farmers, complained....  This is why the Italian Government has decided to allocate 20 million Euros to support the industry....  The information campaign directed at the public also continues...on the eve of the Forli Fair (29 September to 1 October), Europe's largest exhibition devoted to white meat."     

RUSSIA:  "Beak Of Damocles"   

Yekaterina Drankina wrote in business-oriented Den’gi (9/30):  "A 6,000-strong army of veterinarians led by the Agriculture and Emergency Situation Ministries nipped avian flu in the bud, leaving Siberian chicken farms unaffected.  That the nation remained flu-indifferent proved a blessing for many.  In the meantime, vets are determined to keep fighting, shifting their effort to South Africa and Azerbaijan.  They warn that, unless they get the money for the program, avian flu will hit a vast area from the Urals to Poland next year."  

BELGIUM:  "Slowness Of EU Against Avian Flu"   

The independent internet EUobserver wrote (9/27):  "Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have strongly criticized the EU's slow progress in preparing for a possible breakout of the avian influenza pandemic in Europe.  Defending the EU's action, health commissioner Markos Kyprianou told the agriculture parliamentary committee...that national governments have stepped up efforts to hammer out a proposed legislative package on avian influenza by the end of December [and] some member states have voluntarily adopted measures proposed in the directive, well in advance of it coming into force.  The EU executive has agreed to initially provide around 0.8 million Euro to member states to boost co-funding of the surveillance plans agreed in Brussels....  But several MEPs in the committee have questioned the slow progress in dealing with the possibility of the emergence of a bird flu-related strain transmuting so it can affect humans." 

HUNGARY:  "Birds Of A Feather" 

Zoltan Otvos noted in center-left Nepszabadsag (9/28):  "The avian flu virus called H5N1 is frightfully mutable, but not yet evolving to the stage of a mutation that is able to spread from one person to another.  But it will be evolving…so we have to prepare ourselves.  According to a colleague of mine the situation is similar to the Y2K computer misery.  Then we were afraid that the machines would go crazy and not manage the change of the millennium...although the comparison is a unpleasant since at the moment we are not talking about technical equipment but about a virus able to make anyone ill and against which no one is yet immune.  The competition to earn the title 'The first to develop an effective prevention method' might also even bring an abundant income in addition to professional glory.  If somewhere a pathogen which can make humans ill mutates, then according to optimistic estimates we are talking about two million victims or as many as fifty million victims in the pessimistic view."

MIDDLE EAST

UAE:  "Preparing For Avian Flu" 

The official English-language news WAM remarked (Internet version 9/27):  "The Avian Influenza Action Plan to counter the threat of a global avian influenza outbreak has been prepared by the Environment Agency--Abu Dhabi, EAD, in cooperation with other concerned agencies....  Avian influenza or bird flu, a potentially dangerous infectious disease, since its first occurrence in Qinghai in China has spread to several countries.  Flu infection has already been reported from 11 countries in South-east Asia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.  Risks of the disease spreading into Europe and Middle East seem imminent, with first reported case in Finland....  It needs to be taken into consideration that infectious diseases will not stop at the Abu Dhabi Emirate borders.  Therefore any kind of surveillance measures, emergency response plans etc as above mentioned will only be of limited value as a single not screened bird or other animal from another emirate may lead to the spreading of infectious diseases in the Abu Dhabi Emirate."

EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC

AUSTRALIA:  "Worse Than Terror"

Brendan Grabau, consultant pharmacologist for the pharmaceutical continuing education program at Deakin University in Melbourne Brendan Grabau, observed in  conservative national daily the Australian (9/16):  "When Australian Nobel prize winner Peter Doherty, federal Health Minister Tony Abbott and leading defense strategist Hugh White all warn of a potential influenza pandemic, as they did this week, it's a threat that needs to be taken seriously....  In a worst-case scenario, a pandemic is a far greater threat than terrorism....  The inclusion of a scientific solution in preparedness planning is optimistic but perhaps the most important provision of all. For its best chance, Australia must nurture research into new vaccines and treatments, and the industry behind them....  To ensure Australia is adequately protected from a pandemic, it is vital we support science and innovation."

"The Odds Shorten On Australia Facing A Deadly Test Of Its National Psyche" 

Tony Abbott, Federal Minister for Health, commented in liberal Sydney Morning Herald (9/16):  "We don't know if or when a pandemic might occur. We don't know how severe it might be.  We do know that a Spanish flu-type pandemic would be a public health challenge to exceed the worst environmental disaster and to dwarf almost any conceivable terrorist atrocity....  An Australian assessment suggests that 'many countries could experience mass panic, especially if the disease (as in 1918) took its toll on the fit and the healthy' … The challenge is to provide information without spreading alarm and to take prudent precautions in proportion to the potential threat … The competing temptations are 'it won't happen here' complacency, 'there's nothing we can do' fatalism, or 'no precaution is too great' alarmism … A severe flu outbreak would test our national character as well as our public health system." 

CHINA (HONG KONG):  "Beijing's Flu Plan Is Just What The Doctor Ordered"

The independent English-language South China Morning Post commented (Internet Version 9/30):  "The mainland's introduction of a color-coded emergency plan to prevent or deal with a flu pandemic is a welcome development.  It is a small but important step up in preparations to cope with a potentially catastrophic global pandemic which the World Health Organization says is inevitable....  Beijing has been refreshingly frank about the risk of human-to-human transmission of a mutated bird-flu virus beginning on the mainland and growing into a pandemic, and about shortcomings in the country's preparedness to deal with it.  The Ministry of Health notes that historically China has been the first area hit by a number of flu pandemics. But it adds that medical services and public health are 'relatively weak', the surveillance system 'not perfect' and the capability to produce vaccines and drugs 'backward'.  Other measures under the emergency plan include setting up an anti-influenza leading work group, surveillance networks, laboratories and a flu and bird-flu database.  As the World Health Organization points out, the plan is focused on the health sector.  This is understandable, but medical services cannot contain a pandemic without help from other sectors.  That is why the plan needs to be broadened while there is still time.  Hong Kong has reason to take particular interest in the mainland's preparations for a possible outbreak, given our city's close proximity to Guangdong and the painful experience of the Sars outbreak which originated across the border.  Beijing's adoption of an emergency plan and frankness about being unprepared is reassuring.  It suggests that the mainland's failure to reveal the full extent of the Sars outbreak during its early stages in 2003 will not be repeated....  There are grounds for concern that the world is still not as prepared as it should be. Public health experts have found that while many countries have emergency plans to cope with major disasters or terrorist attacks, it is still difficult to convince governments to plan for containing disease outbreaks.  Less than 50 governments around the world have submitted plans with the WHO for dealing with a pandemic.  Most are wealthy western nations--not the Asian countries where the H5N1 avian flu virus has spread.  It is on Asia that experts are focusing in trying to forecast the outbreak of a human pandemic.  The mainland's emergency plan will, hopefully, serve as an example for others."

"Bird Flu Danger Signs Should Be Heeded"

The independent English-language South China Morning Post said in an editorial (9/23):  "The world should heed a dire example of the danger of being unprepared for a predictable human disaster.  The hurricane that devastated New Orleans was listed as one of the three most likely catastrophes facing the U.S.  It is now history that the U.S. was not ready to deal with it.  But if a superpower can be found wanting in those circumstances, what chance does the world have of being prepared for the danger of a flu pandemic developing from the present outbreaks of bird flu?....  Two developments this week are a reminder of the danger.  World flu experts are focusing on Indonesia, where the health minister has warned that recent sporadic cases of bird flu in people in and around Jakarta have made an epidemic there--and the risk of a pandemic--more likely. And two new research papers say that many of the standard treatments for flu--both vaccines and antiviral--are far less effective than previously thought because of the growing resistance of viruses....  Globally, the WHO is on alert to mobilize and co-ordinate a fast response to an early bird flu outbreak, including measures to prevent its spread if possible.  It has an agreement with Roche, the makers of Tamiflu, to stockpile enough of the drug to send emergency supplies to the site of an emerging epidemic.  As Hong Kong learned from being unprepared for the spread of SARS, an effective response will depend on prompt and transparent communication of a suspected outbreak."

TAIWAN:  "Will Avian Influenza (H5N1) Become A Pandemic?" 

Huang Yu-Cheng and Lin Tzou-yien wrote in pro-independence, English-language Taipei Times (internet version--originally published 9/19 in China Times) (9/23):  "First, some strains are known to be highly pathogenic (usually fatal to animals) and it has already become endemic among animals in various areas in Asia.  Second, in the past two years, the disease has affected a greater number of animal species.  Third, transmission to humans has already occurred in Vietnam and Thailand, with a high fatality rate.  The only element lacking at present is an increased capacity for human-to-human transmission.  Once the H5N1 virus becomes a flu infecting humans, it has the potential to become a global pandemic.  Many experts predict an avian-flu pandemic is inevitable, and only a matter of time.  The best way to prevent avian flu is by means of vaccination.  But to develop and mass produce an effective vaccine in the near term is virtually impossible.  Although currently there are not enough cases of avian flu infection to carry out meaningful clinical trials of the two drugs on humans, Tamiflu or Relenza have been effective against the virus in Vietnam and Thailand, and if early diagnosis and treatment also produce an encouraging result, the World Health Organization (WHO) will suggest that each country stockpile a sufficient supply of these anti-viral drugs.  But these drugs are expensive and their production is also limited...  [I]f a pandemic has been declared, the necessity for early diagnosis and treatment with drugs goes without question.  Taiwan's pharmaceutical companies should have the ability to produce anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu, and be encouraged to negotiate with Swiss drug maker Roche and British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline to import cheaper drugs.  Another option would be for Taiwan to become licensed to produce these drugs when any country shows signs of an imminent outbreak.  The WHO strongly recommends every country stockpile a sufficient amount of anti-viral drugs.  Some northern European countries and Japan already have plans to store at least 25 percent of their population's total requirement.  Taiwan's stockpile will be just four percent next year.  The government, the Legislative Yuan and the medical community should cooperate to achieve better results."

"Flu Research Needs Means Testing"

Hsieh Yen-yao, Vice President of the Koo Foundation's Sun Yat-sen Cancer Foundation, noted in pro-independence, English-language Taipei Times (9/9):  "In contrast to the heated debate on the arms-procurement package, the government, which regards the bird flu epidemic as a threat to national security, has not hesitated to allocate NT$30 billion to purchase vaccines and other preventive measures.  This budget was approved without causing any controversy.  No one seems to have questioned this action.  This is because certain interest groups have used the statements made by the World Health Organization (WHO) and foreign experts to convince the public....  [W]e want to question the accuracy of the predictions that more than 5 million people would be infected and at least 10 thousand people would die if a potential bird flu epidemic strikes Taiwan next March.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) to treat patients diagnosed with flu but without any other complications.  In other words, Tamiflu has not been shown to prevent life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia.  This is to say that Tamiflu cannot save the lives of people facing complications from pneumonia resulting from avian flu.  The WHO hasn't released any documents saying that Tamiflu is an effective treatment for avian flu, nor has it urged countries to purchase a sufficient amount of Tamiflu and store it for later use....  Zanamivir, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is a medication similar to Roche's Tamiflu, but it was not widely promoted so it was neglected in favor of Tamiflu, which the government bought in great volume despite evidence it was ineffective against avian flu.  This was done in violation of the Government Procurement Act and the Pharmaceutical Act, and goes against medical principles.  Take note that Taiwan's resources are limited, and the budget for avian flu should not be used to raise the diagnostic standard of Taiwan's doctors and to improve the treatment for pneumonia, rather than spending on developing new vaccines that have no guarantee of success.  And instead of purchasing Tamiflu, the money would be better spent on developing new kinds of respirators.  Marcus Reidenberg, a professor of pharmacology at Cornell University, has written that in the past, when science and clinical pharmacology were not well developed, doctors would often use, with the best possible intentions, treatments that were harmful to patients or for which the dangers greatly exceeded efficacy.  This was because the means were not available to test the safety and effectiveness of the treatment, and they can be forgiven because they acted with the highest motives.  Means for the testing of pharmaceuticals is now available, and if such mistakes are made again, doctors should no longer benefit from the public's forgiveness, however high their motives may be."

JAPAN:  "Bird Influenza;  Avoid Illegal Vaccine"

Conservative Sankei commented (Internet Version 9/11):  "Infections of the H5N2 avian influenza virus have become evident one after another in Ibaraki and Saitama prefectures.  Japan's infection preventive measures are now being put to the test.  Since the outbreak of the avian flu in Yamaguchi prefecture in January last year after an absence of 79 years, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Japan [MAFF] has made it a fundamental measure to kill all the birds in a poultry farm where an infected bird is found.  The reason for the need to fully enforce measures against an infectious source is that if the avian flu spreads, it is highly possible that a new-type virus, which is highly infectious to human beings, will appear.  Applying the brakes on the epidemic at the level of birds is the basic premise of the global approach to a new-type virus.  The virus that triggered the epidemic last year was the highly-virulent H5N1-type....  Because the virus this year is a weak strain of the H5N2-type, the degree of shock was not greater than last year.  But, dealing with a weak strain of virus is more difficult since there is a risk of the virus spreading quietly without notice.  Moreover, there is also a risk that a less virulent strain of the virus could change to a highly-virulent virus if the epidemic is protracted.  We cannot underestimate that.  Meanwhile, if infections, which spread in silence, are confirmed one after another, and birds are killed each time, poultry farmers will cry for help.  The poultry farming industry held an emergency news conference on 8 September to call for the allowance of the use of a vaccine.  The MAFF does not permit the use of the bird flu vaccine because of the following reasons: 1) if virus inactivation (eliminating infectability) is inadequate, the vaccine will be a source of infection; and 2) the increase in the number of birds, which do not become sick even though they are infected, would delay grasping the extent of the epidemic and primary care.  Moreover, the MAFF expert committee presented the view on the recent epidemic that it is undeniable that the use of the vaccine is the transmission route.  Hypothetically speaking, if the vaccine that is unapproved for the use within Japan could be obtained by smuggling or illicit production, the risk of using an insufficiently inactivated vaccine will increase accordingly.  That could cause the good measures to work negatively.  The MAFF needs to present a convincing scientific basis and continue the efforts to proceed with reasonable measures as well as to strongly boost the poultry farming industry's awareness not to cause such things."

INDONESIA:  "Are We Capable Of Coping With The Deadly Bird Flu?"

Andrio Adiwibowo, a researcher, wrote in independent English-language The Jakarta Post (Internet version, 9/28):  "[T]here is not enough vaccine or antiviral medicine available to protect more than a handful of people, and no industrial capacity to produce a lot more of these medicines quickly.  At the very least, developing poor countries will suffer a lot more than the developed world.  The majority of the world, including all the poor countries of South Asia and Africa where, history tells us, pandemics are likely to hit especially hard, will have no access to expensive antivirals or scarce vaccines.  It is even doubtful whether the minimal medicines available to respond to an initial outbreak are adequate.  Correspondingly, immediate steps should be taken to improve monitoring and the assessment of the risk of pandemic influenza in all countries where avian H5N1 viruses are present.  Measures to reduce the threat of pandemic influenza including developing an international stockpile of antiviral drugs and making a vaccine available in affected countries in Asia should be mandatory." 

"Bird Flu Coverage Exaggerated"

Medan's left-of-center nationalist Waspada explained (Internet version, 9/28):  "What happened is:  the mass media has exaggerated coverage about the bird flu virus.  Such coverage has made society panicky.  There has been no synchronicity which may save our society or farm industry from the bird flu epidemic....  We should learn from advanced countries how to develop farming industries and prevent the virus."

"Once Again On Avian Flu"

Leading independent daily Kompas commented (9/26):  "The avian flu outbreak should not distract us from other diseases, such as polio, warned the World Health Organization (WHO).  Heads of State who were present at the UN General Assembly meeting urged all nations to fight avian flu as a contagious disease among humans and to prevent it becoming a new pandemic.  Without creating panic, the avian flu outbreak should awaken people to health and disease issues.  Let us improve our awareness, understanding, and attention to disease, clean environment, and a hygienic life style. Information and communication plays an important role in this matter.  We are reminded of the global, simultaneous, and interactive nature and role of mass media.  We have the technology and what we need now is the intelligence to use the information and technology in an intelligent, wise, and effective manner to avoid unreasonable confusion and fear."

"Again, Victims Of Avian Flu"

Leading independent daily Kompas contended (9/20):  "Without knowing the cause and means of transmission of the disease, it is impossible to eradicate and halt the spread of the avian flu virus.  It is just a matter of time before more avian flu cases appear.  Blood samples will be taken and people suspected of having the virus will be isolated and monitored in Sualianti Saroso Hospital.  Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso even plans to close poultry husbandries in the city.  Does the breeder who has been breeding healthy poultry in a hygienic way have to close his husbandry and stop working just because of avian flu?  We have to be practical.  We need to solve the problem based on the core of the problem.  First we need to trace Rini Dina's [recent avian flu victim] activities leading up to her infection.  Second, we need to counsel farmers about appropriate husbandry management.  Poultry vaccinations should also be continued.  Finally, we need a more systematic method to eradicate avian flu."

MALAYSIA:  "Malaysia To Strengthen Avian Flu Prevention"

Government-influenced, Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau commented (Internet version, 9/22):  "The new outbreak of avian flu in Indonesia has again caused four deaths and six infections.  The Indonesian authority, who has declared the avian flu outbreak in the country as an 'extraordinary' situation, has further confirmed that the source of avian flu virus originated from a zoo in Jakarta.  In mid-July this year, this fatal avian flu virus has already killed three people in Indonesia.  With such repeated avian flu outbreaks reported in Indonesia, countries like Malaysia cannot help but strengthen preventive measures in an effort to stop the spread of this deadly virus from getting into the country.  Since Malaysia does not import poultry products from Indonesia, we have to agree with the Veterinary Services Department's assessment that Malaysia is a low-risk area as far as avian flu is concerned.  Yet, it does not mean that we should take such a possibility lightly.  We should recall that when the avian flu virus spread from southern Thailand to our Kelantan state in August last year, it took the government over a month to clean up the poultry farms in the north....  Looking at the global avian flu situation from a broader perspective, it is indeed alarming to note that the avian flu virus has already spread north to affect countries such as Russia, Japan and the former Russian states.  Further south, ASEAN nations such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia are also avian flu-affected areas.  It is thus extremely important for the government, besides checking on poultry farms and tourism-related sectors such as restaurants, transportation and custom check points, to also pay attention to the movement of the migratory birds to prevent them carrying this deadly virus across the national boundary and ending up in Malaysia."

"ASEAN Nations Should Strengthen Links To Curb Spread Of Avian Flu"

Independent, Chinese-language Oriental Daily News noted (Internet version, 9/22):  "The fear of an avian flu epidemic has caused great concern for the region.  Now that more avian flu cases are reported in Indonesia, all other Southeast Asian countries, especially Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, have a reason to worry not only about the threat of avian flu to human lives but also its impact to the regional economy as a whole.  It is thus very wise of our Agriculture minister, Muhyiddin, to take an early step in informing and clarifying with the World Health Organization that Malaysia is free from avian flu and that our poultry products are safe for human consumption.  This is the only way we can protect our poultry export trade.  Yet many foreign countries have the tendency to lump all the five Southeast Asian nations, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines as a common group.  These foreign countries have the wrong perception that if something dreadful happened to any of these countries, whether it is a  terrorist attack haze or the avian flu phenomenon, similar situations would also occur in the rest of the Southeast Asian nations.  With such a wrong perception in mind, Malaysia's tourism industry would always become affected by such regional affairs.  Nevertheless, it is also time for us to realize that the threat and spread of the avian flu epidemic to the region can be very serious and real.  We do not have the ability to confine or isolate this avian flu virus to just one country.  No country should think that it can be immune from it.  The region must strengthen communication links to prevent, curb and support one another in time of need."

NEW ZEALAND:  "How Real Is The Asian Bird Flu Threat?" 

An editorial in the Timaru Herald asked (Internet version, 9/27):  "How real is the Asian bird flu threat here in South Canterbury, and should people be doing more to protect themselves against it?  News that supplies of the anti-bird flu drug Tamiflu are being snapped up as quickly as they come into the country will come as a surprise to many, and have some wondering if they should be joining the queue.  The answer is not simple. Certainly, the drug is a form of health insurance that you may or may not need, but at $ 70 to $ 80 per course per person, cost will be a factor....  The real fear though is what might happen if the flu develops the capability to infect human to human.  Many experts say this is a matter of when, not if, while others are less sure.  What is more widely accepted is if the flu does mutate into a human-to-human killer, the threat to the whole world becomes very real. In New Zealand, the Government has committed $ 26 million so far in preparation.  It has ordered enough Tamiflu to protect 20 per cent of the population, with priority going to those in the front- line fight against it, like doctors and nurses.  It has also ordered masks and other equipment to help contain the spread, and has 26 part and full-time staff on pandemic planning projects.  Is that enough?  Too many 'ifs' and 'buts' still exist.  If bird flu does mutate, will it reach New Zealand?  If it does, how virulent will it be?  Will some people be more susceptible than others?  Will Tamiflu by then offer the right protection?  Auckland University infectious disease physician Mark Thomas says if an outbreak is extensive, the country will probably feel it has been 'hopelessly underprepared'.  That's fair comment, but so is the one from Mark Jacobs, the Director of Public Health, who says we should all be thinking about what we can do to prepare for the worst--while hoping and working for something better than that.  And 'we' is the operative word there....  Sure, the Government could be doing a lot more on our behalf, but you can't realistically practice for something like this. It's a question of balance and risk assessment, and that falls to individuals as well."

"A Chilling Picture"

The top-circulation Press of Christchurch editorialized (Internet version, 9/17):  "Ask most New Zealanders what poses the greatest potential threat to our society and way of life and, chances are, the answers would focus on earthquakes, storms or tsunami.  Yet far more cataclysmic would be the mutation of the avian flu virus H5N1 into a strain which could spread easily from human to human.  Medical experts, including the World Health Organization, are painting chilling pictures of the global impact of this, many likening its potential virulence to the flu pandemic of 1918 which killed up to 50 million people.  The worst news of all is that experts are adamant that it is not a question of if an avian flu pandemic erupts, but when....Some New Zealanders are evidently aware of the threat, as reflected in the growing numbers buying the antiviral drug Tamiflu. Generally, however, there appears to be a lack of awareness of the threat.  This might be because it is perceived to be a South East Asian problem, although cases of birds dying have also been detected in Siberia.  Besides, pandemics do not respect national borders.  The low awareness might also be due to the fact that the full horror of the well publicized Sars virus did not eventuate in New Zealand.....  It is true that it is not clear how effective Tamiflu is with respect to avian flu.  Yet on the one hand the ministry is stockpiling the drug and warning that health services will find it hard to deal with a pandemic.  On the other, it has done nothing to facilitate public access to the drug.  Health authorities must acknowledge that the public is entitled to good information about the drug and, if the avian flu threat is so dire, access to it....  The question also remains as to whether the ministry, despite its website having extensive information on avian flu, should be doing more to raise public recognition of this potential threat.  Obviously the risk of scare-mongering must be avoided.  The aim must be to educate, but not panic, the public about the nature of the illness--as the ministry did successfully with the Sars threat.  It is the lack of information which creates the environment in which public panic can develop.  An informed public would also recognize the need for what might otherwise be viewed as draconian response measures, such as shutting schools, airports and other facilities.  Above all, the ministry must ensure that it retains the confidence of the public as it prepares to tackle a possible flu pandemic....  As New Zealand braces itself for the potentially devastating impact of an avian flu pandemic, it is this combination of public awareness and public confidence in the ministry which could be a vital weapon in the fight."

PAPUA NEW GUINEA:   "High Alert" 

The mass-circulation Port Moresby Post Courier wrote (Internet version, 9/28):  "Papua New Guinea is on high alert in light of a threat posed by the deadly bird flu virus that is spreading across Asian countries, including neighboring Indonesia.  The National Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Authority [NAQIA] is stepping up surveillance measures due to the migratory routes of birds from northern China and Central Asia that could possibly carry the flu to PNG.  The birds would be flying over PNG to Australia for the summer."  

PHILIPPINES:  "Fund To Wipe Out Bird Flu" 

The privately owned English-language Philippine Star remarked (Internet version, 9/30):  "The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris-based Office International des Epizooties or OIE are pushing for the establishment of a $102-million fund to bankroll a proposed three-year global strategy to eliminate the dreaded avian influenza (AI) or bird flu virus that is ravaging billion-dollar poultry farming worldwide.  This proposed global strategy was prompted by increasing human deaths in affected countries and is also a means to prevent it from spreading in countries that are still free from bird flu according to the chief technical adviser of the FAO regional office for Asia and the Pacific."

SINGAPORE:  "Region Should Accept Suggestion To Include Avian Flu On APEC Agenda" 

Pro-government Chinese-language morning daily Lianhe Zaobao stated (Internet version, 9/24):  "The recent spread of avian flu in Indonesia has caused the death of three children.  This development has stirred great concern to the region as well as to the world community.  While there is still no indication to show that in Indonesia, the unpredictable mutations of the avian flu virus has reached the stage to infect human-to-human, it remains crucial for the Indonesian authority to take all possible precautions to prevent its spread in the region.  Indonesia is a large country with dense population spread through all islands.  It is thus a difficult and massive task for the authorities to effectively control the spread of avian flu.  There is an urgent need for Jakarta to adopt a new strategy to prevent the spread of avian flu and to educate the 30 million poultry farmers to cooperate with the government to prevent the spread of avian flu.  In addition, we should also accept the suggestion coming from the United States and Australia in putting the agenda on the prevention of avian flu in the next coming APEC Summit.  It is only through regional meetings such as APEC we can hope to gather resources and wisdom to find a solution to prevent avian flu becoming a health threat to humanity."  

THAILAND:  "Poor Response Towards Bird Flu"

Top-circulation, moderately conservative, English-language Bangkok Post editorialized (9/28):  "U.S. President George W. Bush deserves some credit for trying to boost the worldwide fight that is necessary to prepare for a possible human influenza pandemic.  Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly meeting earlier this month, Mr. Bush unveiled 'a new international partnership' to fight avian flu and to prepare for a possible human outbreak....  The response to avian flu so far has been somewhat wishy-washy.  On one hand, political leaders have been seen taking steps. On the other experts, with some notable exceptions that include the UN's own World Health Organization, have acted slowly or not at all in preparing for possible biodisaster."

"Thai-U.S. Relations On Cruise Control"

Independent English-language The Nation stated (9/21):  "The letter signed by 11 U.S. Congressmen submitted to Bush on September 12 underscored real issues concerning Thai-U.S. relations.  The letter urged Bush to publicly raise issues related to democracy and civil liberties and Thailand’s continued support for Burma.  Somehow, Bush failed to do that.  Instead, he praised Thailand’s efforts to combat the spread of bird flu.  For want of anything better to say, Bush said Thaksin is 'a good friend and a very thoughtful leader' when it comes to the effort to contain the spread of the potentially devastating flu pandemic.  Bush told the press that Thailand leads in putting systems in place that will track the viruses that attack different birds, and will watch very carefully to make sure that there is no bird-to-human transmission in the country.  Well, when the bilateral relations are in trouble, talking about bird flu does provide an opportunity for kind words."  

WESTERN HEMISPHERE

ARGENTINA:  "Epidemic May Lead To Global Political Crisis"

Oscar Raul Cardoso commented in leading Clarin (10/1):  "The avian flu (H5N1) has now reached two of three conditions which turn it into a clear and present threat: it now has characteristics against which the human being has no immunity or natural defenses and it has proved that it may move between species.  The only thing it's missing is a mutation which will allow it to combine with other elements of the human body and this is what scientists foresee may take place any moment now.  Obviously, it's impossible to have a vaccine for a disease that is still unknown....  But if the threat becomes real, experts believe there won't be a vaccine in time or in enough quantities and the anti-virus will remain in the warehouses of the rich countries that may buy it and it will also be scarce; this is another instance in which we will be trapped by the inscrutable will of the market."

"Avian Flu:  Listen, Take Action"

Marcelo Cantelmi, an editor for leading Clarin, wrote (10/1):  "The threat of this disease mustn't be evaluated for its dangerousness only, but for the difficulties the world faces to fight it with efficacy.  Most of the shots against this virus are produced by only nine nations: Australia, Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Holland and the U.S., most of them G-8 members and the most industrialized countries.  In its last edition, The Economist warns that these countries are only capable of producing 300 million vaccines a year, very little to deal with a global pandemic of a more severe variety of the virus.  In case of a sanitary emergency, even these countries may limit or ban exports of the vaccine. 'Without an international agreement right away, there will be a high risk of lack of vaccines, inequity and delay to provide the medicine,' says the prestigious British medium. It's a warning.  But it's crucial that it arrives in time.  There's a long history of recent warnings that weren't heard, and which left a trail of death and despair."

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