As Mexico City, the third largest in the world, grinds to a halt, the EU’s health commissioner warns European travellers not to fly to anywhere in North or Central America unless their journey is absolutely necessary.
In Britain, where £50 million worth of face masks are on order, government ministers go into full crisis mode, holding emergency meetings in a Whitehall bunker and telling us they will soon be sending a leaflet on the dangers of Mexican swine flu to every home in the country.
As BBC presenters roll their lips round such words as ‘pandemic’ and ‘Armageddon’, we are gravely warned that this new flu strain could be as dangerous as the famous Spanish flu which, at the end of World War I, killed 50 million people.
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It may be that swine flu has killed 159 people in Mexico itself – although it is still not certain that it was the cause of all those deaths. It may be that a young child has died in the U.S. after a family holiday in Mexico, which is a tragedy.
More cases may emerge among the 10,000 unfortunate Britons stranded in Mexico by this emergency, and more cases in Britain itself in addition to the three announced yesterday.
But are we sure that this extraordinary crisis is being kept in perspective? Don’t we have the sense that we have seen this kind of panic before, which eventually turned out to have gone way over the top?
The moment which more than any might have set off a severe attack of deja vu came when the BBC Today programme wheeled on an expert from the World Health Organisation to tell us that ’40 per cent’ of us in Britain may catch swine flu – while another unnamed expert was quoted predicting that ‘1.2 million’ Britons could die.