The World from Berlin 'Panic Can Spread More Quickly Than Swine Flu'

With the first case of swine flu confirmed in Europe, the world is gripped by fear of a global pandemic. German newspapers on Monday examine the measures taken to contain the disease and some warn against the spread of panic.

With more than 100 people dead in Mexico and almost 30 infected in the US and Canada, the threat of a flu pandemic is gripping the world. Although there had been hopes that the emergency could be contained to the North American continent, Europe saw its first confirmed case on Monday.

The Spanish Health Ministry announced that one case of swine flu had been confirmed, and that tests were continuing on whether another 20 sick people are infected with the strain of swine flu that has mutated to spread between humans. Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez told a press conference that the confirmed case was a young man who had recently been in Mexico and that he was responding well to treatment.

"They are all stable, none of the cases is grave, not even that of the case confirmed (as swine flu)," Jimenez said. "These are people who have recently been on trips to Mexico," she said, adding that Spain had sufficient doses stored of anti-viral medicine.

In Scotland, two people who returned from Mexico last week with flu-like symptoms are still being assessed in hospital and their test results are due later on Monday.

Faced with the likelihood that swine flu is about to hit their shores, European Union foreign ministers met in Luxembourg on Monday to discuss a possible outbreak. EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassilious briefed the 27 ministers on what the bloc could do to prevent the flu spreading. "There needs to be maximum European coordination," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters ahead of the meeting. "It's important that we … provide a clear set of running actions that can provide a degree of assurance and coordination that people need, that is something we are determined to do."

The head of the prestigious Berlin-based Robert Koch Institute, Jörg Hacker, has said that one cannot rule out this strain of the swine flu spreading to Germany. He told the Neue Presse newspaper that the H1N1 virus had all the properties required for a global pandemic. However, he warned people not to panic and said that Germany was well prepared for such an eventuality.

On Monday, a spokesman for the German Health Ministry said that the German public was not in direct danger. However, the first measures are being taken to halt the spread of the disease, including the distribution of flyers in airports and to doctors with information about the virus.

A girl wears a mask as she walks along a street in Mexico City.

A girl wears a mask as she walks along a street in Mexico City.

On Monday German papers examine the measures being taken to avert a global pandemic and most are agreed that panic-mongering must be avoided.

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"The experts don't know yet how dangerous Mexico's new swine flu is. And if they eventually find out that this virus is actually as dangerous as the Spanish Flu, then it will already be too late to take the necessary preventative steps. That is the dilemma that this perfidious virus forces upon us. If all flights to Mexico are now cancelled and drastic quarantine measures are imposed, then there could be accusations of disproportionality if -- and this is a possibility -- the virus proves not to be so rampant. But if it is, and one fails to stop it while it is still confined to a few regions, then the authorities will have to hear later how they underestimated the danger."

"The WHO has already used dramatic words and has made it clear that the new virus has the potential to turn into a pandemic. This, however, stands in marked contrast to the measures that have been suggested so far."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"There seems to be no clarity about how fast the new virus could spread around the world and how great the danger is that people could die from the disease. The spread of the disease among pigs can be avoiding using a vaccine, however there is no such vaccine for humans. It could take three to six months to develop one. Nevertheless there are indications that new flu medication such as Tamiflu can be used to treat the swine flu. So the huge financial cost of stock-piling such medicines out of fear of the bird flu may have been worth it."

"Now it is a question of imposing security measures, for example at airports, in order to prevent the dispersion of the virus and pushing for Mexico and the US to prevent the disease spreading further. There is no reason to react with the same kind of panic of two years ago."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The genetic variation that has spread in Mexico and the United States has alarmed pandemic experts. Even though, at least in the US, the cases of infection have often been mild or have even already been cured. … What is striking about the virus is that it is above all young and healthy people who are getting sick, something that differs from the normal flu which usually affects those with weak immune systems such as old people and children -- a parallel to the devastating Spanish Flu of almost a hundred years ago. What this says about the Mexican flu's potential for a pandemic will only become clear in the next few days."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The traditional media and the Internet are updating the numbers of victims and people infected by the minute, they are showing pictures of people suffering in hospital and giving situation reports from the affected regions. One has to be careful not to panic in the face of the flood of information."

"If one surfs on Twitter a bit too long, one would get the unavoidable urge to run out to the nearest pharmacy and buy some Tamiflu together with a surgical mask."

"Of course it is wonderful how quickly information can be communicated these days. The problem lies in evaluating that information. The media or individuals publishing on the Internet can make mistakes, panic themselves, and infect other people. And this spreads much more quickly than the swine flu."

"There is little left over from the last pandemic candidate, bird flu, apart from a lot of fear. Naturally caution is required for every epidemic, including swine flu. However, panic is never the right antidote."

-- Siobhán Dowling, 12:50 p.m. CET


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