Agri-biz at root of swine flu? Real News Network report, April 30, 2009.
* * *
April 27, 2009 -- Socialist Worker (USA) -- Mike Davis, whose 2006 book The Monster at Our Door warned of the threat of a global bird flu pandemic, explains how
globalised agribusiness set the stage for a frightening outbreak of the
swine flu in Mexico.
The spring break hordes returned from Cancun this year with an invisible but sinister souvenir. The Mexican swine flu, a genetic chimera probably conceived in the
fecal mire of an industrial pigsty, suddenly threatens to give the
whole world a fever. Initial outbreaks across North America reveal an
infection rate already travelling at higher velocity than the last
official pandemic strain, the 1968 Hong Kong flu.
Stealing the limelight from our officially appointed assassin -- the
otherwise vigorously mutating H5N1, known as bird flu -- this porcine
virus is a threat of unknown magnitude. Certainly, it seems far less
lethal than Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, but as an influenza, it may be more durable
than SARS and less inclined to return to its secret cave.
Given that domesticated seasonal Type-A influenzas kill as many 1
million people each year, even a modest increment of virulence,
especially if coupled with high incidence, could produce carnage
equivalent to a major war.
Meanwhile, one of its first victims has been the consoling faith,
long preached in the pews of the World Health Organization (WHO), that
pandemics can be contained by the rapid responses of medical
bureaucracies, independent of the quality of local public health.
Since the initial H5N1 deaths in Hong Kong in 1997, the WHO, with
the support of most national health services, has promoted a strategy
focused on the identification and isolation of a pandemic strain within
its local radius of outbreak, followed by a thorough dousing of the
population with anti-viral drugs and (if available) a vaccine.
An army of skeptics has rightly contested this viral
counter-insurgency approach, pointing out that microbes can now fly
around the world (quite literally in the case of avian flu) faster than
the WHO or local officials can react to the original outbreak. They
also pointed to the primitive, often non-existent surveillance of the
interface between human and animal diseases.
But the mythology of bold, preemptive (and cheap) intervention
against avian flu has been invaluable to the cause of rich countries,
like the US and Britain, which prefer to invest in their own
biological Maginot Lines, rather than dramatically increase aid to
epidemic frontlines overseas -- as well as to Big Pharma, which has
battled Third World demands for the generic, public manufacture of
critical antivirals like Roche's Tamiflu.
The swine flu, in any case, may prove that the WHO/CDC version of
pandemic preparedness -- without massive new investment in surveillance,
scientific and regulatory infrastructure, basic public health, and
global access to lifeline drugs -- belongs to the same class of Ponzified
risk management as AIG derivatives and Madoff securities.
It isn't so much that the pandemic warning system has failed as it simply doesn't exist, even in North America and the EU.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Mexico lacks both capacity and
political will to monitor livestock diseases and their public health
impacts, but the situation is hardly better north of the border, where
surveillance is a failed patchwork of state jurisdictions, and
corporate livestock producers treat health regulations with the same
contempt with which they deal with workers and animals.
Similarly, a decade of urgent warnings by scientists in the field
has failed to ensure the transfer of sophisticated viral assay
technology to the countries in the direct path of likely pandemics.
Mexico has world-famous disease experts, but it had to send swabs to a
laboratory in Winnipeg (which has less than 3 per cent of the population
of Mexico City) in order to identify the strain's genome. Almost a week
was lost as a consequence.
But no one was less alert than the legendary disease controllers in Atlanta. According to the Washington Post,
the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did not learn about the outbreak
until six days after the Mexican government had begun to impose
emergency measures. Indeed, the Post reported, "US public
health officials are still largely in the dark about what's happening
in Mexico two weeks after the outbreak was recognised."
There should be no excuses. This is not a "black swan" flapping its
wings. Indeed, the central paradox of this swine flu panic is that
while totally unexpected, it was accurately predicted.
Six years ago, Science dedicated a major story (reported by
the admirable Bernice Wuethrich) to evidence that "after years of
stability, the North American swine flu virus has jumped onto an
evolutionary fast track".
Since its identification at the beginning of the Depression, H1N1
swine flu had only drifted slightly from its original genome. Then, in
1998, all hell broke loose.
A highly pathogenic strain began to decimate sows on a factory hog
farm in North Carolina, and new, more virulent versions began to appear
almost yearly, including a weird variant of H1N1 that contained the
internal genes of H3N2 (the other type-A flu circulating among humans).
Researchers whom Wuethrich interviewed worried that one of these
hybrids might become a human flu (both the 1957 and 1968 pandemics are
believed to have originated from the mixing of bird and human viruses
inside pigs), and urged the creation of an official surveillance system
for swine flu. That admonition, of course, went unheeded in a
Washington prepared to throw away billions on bioterrorism fantasies
while neglecting obvious dangers.
But what caused this acceleration of swine flu evolution? Probably
the same thing that has favoured the reproduction of avian flu.
Virologists have long believed that the intensive agricultural
system of southern China -- an immensely productive ecology of rice,
fish, pigs and domestic and wild birds -- is the principal engine of
influenza mutation: both seasonal "drift" and episodic genomic "shift."
(More rarely, there may occur a direct leap from birds to pigs and/or
humans, as with H5N1 in 1997.)
But the corporate industrialisation of livestock production has
broken China's natural monopoly on influenza evolution. As many writers
have pointed out, animal husbandry in recent decades has been
transformed into something that more closely resembles the
petrochemical industry than the happy family farm depicted in
In 1965, for instance, there were 53 million American hogs on more
than 1 million farms; today, 65 million hogs are concentrated in 65,000
facilities -- half with more than 5000 animals.
This has been a transition, in essence, from old-fashioned pig pens
to vast excremental hells, unprecedented in nature, containing tens,
even hundreds of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems,
suffocating in heat and manure, while exchanging pathogens at blinding
velocity with their fellow inmates and pathetic progenies.
Anyone who has ever driven through Tar Heel, North Carolina, or Milford,
Utah -- where Smithfield Foods subsidiaries each annually produce more
than 1 million pigs as well as hundreds of lagoons full of toxic
shit -- will intuitively understand how profoundly agribusiness has
meddled with the laws of nature.
Last year, a distinguished commission convened by the Pew Research
Center issued a landmark report on "industrial farm animal production"
underscoring the acute danger that "the continual cycling of
viruses ... in large herds or flocks [will] increase opportunities for
the generation of novel virus through mutation or recombinant events
that could result in more efficient human-to-human transmission."
The commission also warned that promiscuous antibiotic use in hog
factories (a cheaper alternative to sewer systems or humane
environments) was causing the rise of resistant Staph infections, while
sewage spills were producing nightmare E. coli outbreaks and Pfisteria
blooms (the doomsday protozoan that has killed more than 1 billion fish
in the Carolina estuaries and sickened dozens of fisherpeople).
Any amelioration of this new pathogen ecology, however, would have
to confront the monstrous power exercised by livestock conglomerates
such as Smithfield Foods (pork and beef) and Tyson (chickens). The Pew
commissioners, chaired by former Kansas Governor John Carlin, reported
systemic obstruction of their investigation by corporations, including
blatant threats to withhold funding from cooperative researchers.
Moreover, this is a highly globalised industry, with equivalent
international political clout. Just as Bangkok-based chicken giant
Charoen Pokphand was able to suppress investigations into its role in
the spread of bird flu throughout South-East Asia, so it is likely that
the forensic epidemiology of the swine flu outbreak will pound its head
against the corporate stone wall of the pork industry.
This is not to say that a smoking gun will never be found: there is
already gossip in the Mexican press about an influenza epicentre around
a huge Smithfield subsidiary in the state of Veracruz.
But what matters more (especially given the continued threat of
H5N1) is the larger configuration: the WHO's failed pandemic strategy,
the further decline of world public health, the stranglehold of Big
Pharma over lifeline medicines, and the planetary catastrophe of
industrialised and ecologically unhinged livestock production.
HAVANA TIMES, April 27 – Cuba’s health and civil defense authorities
have announced a series of measures to prevent a possible outbreak of
swine flu that is affecting Mexico, the United States, Canada and
several European countries.
No cases of swine flu have been reported so far on the island. Over
recent years Cuba has developed a system to face possible epidemics
after the spread in some countries of bird flu.
The authorities announced that special preventive measures were
being taken at Cuban airports and ports and “limiting flights to and
from Mexico,” where so far the most cases of swine flu have been
recorded with over a hundred deaths.
The outbreak has hit hardest in and around Mexico City where over
the weekend soldiers handed out some six million masks, reported the
The Cuban Public Health system is activating all its epidemiological
watch capacity and is preparing to take whatever measures are
necessary, “depending on the evolution of the situation”, notes a
statement published on Monday.
The authorities recommended that the population “step up personal
and collective hygiene including covering the mouth and nose when
sneezing or coughing, frequently washing hands and maintaining
cleanliness at homes and workplaces, as well as seeking medical
attention when necessary.”
One immediate affect is that the swine flu alert is already raising havoc in the US and Mexican tourist industries.
As an example of the magnitude of the scare, the BBC reported that
Germany’s largest tour operator has suspended trips to Mexico.
Likewise, the New York Times said that the fear of a global pandemic
led the European Union health commissioner to urge European citizens
“to avoid traveling the United States or Mexico.”
Nonetheless, taking a wait and see attitude, the World Health
Organization (WHO) has yet to issue any recommendation of travel
restrictions, reported the L.A. Times.
Experts are rushing to estimate just how dangerous the new Type A
(H1N1) swine flu strain will be, gathering data on the outbreak in
Mexico and other countries.
Cuba is known for its nationwide civil defense network that last year had to confront three powerful hurricanes.
Article printed from Havana Times.org: http://www.havanatimes.org
URL to article: http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=7888
Smithfield Farms Fled US Environmental Laws to Open a Gigantic Pig Farm in Mexico, and All We Got Was this Lousy Swine Flu
By Al Giordano Special to The Narco News Bulletin
April 29, 2009
and Mexico authorities claim that neither knew about the “swine flu”
outbreak until April 24. But after hundreds of residents of a town in
Veracruz, Mexico, came down with its symptoms, the story had already
hit the Mexican national press by April 5. The daily La Jornada reported:
of flies emanate from the rusty lagoons where the Carroll Ranches
business tosses the fecal wastes of its pig farms, and the open-air
contamination is already generating an epidemic of respiratory
infections in the town of La Gloria, in the Perote Valley, according to
Town Administrator Bertha Crisóstomo López.
The town has 3,000 inhabitants, hundreds of whom reported severe flu symptoms in March.
CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reporting from Mexico, has identified
a La Gloria child who contracted the first case of identified “swine
flu” in February as “patient zero,” five-year-old Edgar Hernández, now
a survivor of the disease.
By April 15 – nine days before
Mexican federal authorities of the regime of President Felipe Calderon
acknowledged any problem at all – the local daily newspaper, Marcha, reported that a company called Carroll Ranches was “the cause of the epidemic.”
La Jornada columnist Julio Hernández López
connects the corporate dots to explain how the Virginia-based
Smithfield Farms came to Mexico: In 1985, Smithfield Farms received
what was, at the time, the most expensive fine in history – $12.6
million – for violating the US Clean Water
Act at its pig facilities near the Pagan River in Smithfield, Virginia,
a tributary that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The company, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dumped hog waste into the river.
was a case in which US environmental law succeeded in forcing a
polluter, Smithfield Farms, to construct a sewage treatment plant at
that facility after decades of using the river as a mega-toilet. But
“free trade” opened a path for Smithfield Farms to simply move its
harmful practices next door into Mexico so that it could evade the
tougher US regulators.
The North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect on January 1, 1994. That very same
year Smithfield Farms opened the “Carroll Ranches” in the Mexican state
of Veracruz through a new subsidiary corporation, “Agroindustrias de
Unlike what law enforcers forced upon Smithfield
Farms in the US, the new Mexican facility – processing 800,000 pigs
into bacon and other products per year – does not have a sewage
According to Rolling Stone
magazine, Smithfield slaughters an estimated 27 million hogs a year to
produce more than six billion pounds of packaged pork products. (The
Veracruz facility thus constitutes about three percent of its total
Reporter Jeff Teitz reported in 2006 on the
conditions in Smithfield’s US facilities (remember: what you are about
to read describes conditions that are more sanitary and regulated than those in Mexico):
pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows
of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and
delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around.
Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a
tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight,
straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to
fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides
excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally
crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide,
antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs—anything small enough to fit
through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain
closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good
expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out
into a large holding pond.
The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than
ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation
with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous
exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems
function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down
for any length of time, pigs start dying.
what happens when such forms of massive pork production move to
unregulated territory where Mexican authorities allow wealthy interests
to do business without adequate oversight, abusing workers and the
environment both. And there it is: The violence wrought by NAFTA in clear and understandable human terms.
so-called “swine flu” exploded because an environmental disaster simply
moved (and with it, took jobs from US workers) to Mexico where
environmental and worker safety laws, if they exist, are not enforced
against powerful multinational corporations.
constructs of borders – the kind that cause US and Mexican citizens
alike to imagine a flu strain like this one invading their nations from
other lands – are taking a long overdue hit by the current “swine flu”
media frenzy. In this case, US-Mexico trade policy created a time bomb
in Veracruz that has already murdered more than 150 Mexican citizens,
and at least one child in the US, by creating a gigantic Petri dish in
the form pig farms to generate bacon and ham for international sale.
of that indicates that this flu strain was born in Mexico, but, rather,
that the North American Free Trade Agreement created the optimal
conditions for the flu to gestate and become, at minimum, epidemic in
La Gloria and, now, Mexico City, and threatens to become international
Welcome to the aftermath of “free trade.”
Authorities now want you to grab a hospital facemask and avoid human
contact until the outbreak hopefully blows over. And if you start to
feel dizzy, or a flush with fever, or other symptoms begin to molest
you or your children, remember this: The real name of this infirmity is
“The NAFTA Flu,” the first of what may well
emerge as many new illnesses to emerge internationally as the direct
result of “free trade” agreements that allow companies like Smithfield
Farms to escape health, safety and environmental laws.
Published: April 29 2009 22:04 | Last updated: April 29 2009 22:40
Manufacturers warned on Wednesday that limited stocks of a future swine
flu vaccine could be distributed on a “first come, first served” basis,
leaving hundreds of millions of people in poorer countries without
Andrin Oswald from Novartis, one of the world’s top flu vaccine
producers, told the Financial Times his company had already allocated
more than *a fifth of its total capacity for making a future pandemic
vaccine to governments, including the US and the UK*.
His comments came as representatives of the vaccine industry met
European health officials to prepare for an EU meeting on Thursday in
Brussels to discuss their response to a pandemic, including how to
allocate and pay for supplies.
With several months required to produce new vaccines, and total global
manufacturing capacity far below the world’s population, scarce supplies
could be the source for political tensions between richer, well-prepared
countries and the rest.
*Planners have also raised concerns that a handful of European countries
that dominate vaccine production – including France and Germany – could
close their borders to restrict the export of vaccines until their own
populations are covered.*
“We are expecting the Commission to develop a strategy for allocation
between countries,” said Luc Hessel from Sanofi-Pasteur, the vaccines
arm of Sanofi-Aventis of France and a board member of the European
Vaccine Manufacturers’ Association.
*He said that about 15 countries – including Canada and the US, many in
Europe, and Japan and Australia – had placed “advance contracts” for
about 200m pandemic flu doses, representing half of current total annual
production for seasonal flu vaccines of 400m.*
However, he stressed that a range of new techniques could substantially
In the past few years, the vaccine industry has been working with the
World Health Organisation and policymakers to devise ways to expand
By switching to a single “monovalent” dose rather than trivalent
vaccines that protect against three different seasonal flu strains each
year, productivity could be substantially enhanced.
Further gains could come from injecting just into the skin, which
appears to boost efficacy, as well as the use of a chemical adjuvant to
boost the body’s immune response and allow “cross-protection” for
strains other than the one for which the vaccine was specifically
Manufacturers and health officials are also wary of switching
immediately from producing vaccines for the next seasonal flu outbreak
while data on the impact of the H1N1 virus are limited.
However, these production cycles should be finished within a few weeks,
giving time for them to consider whether to replace one of the three
antigens in the next seasonal vaccine with the H1N1 strain identified in
Vaccine makers have long argued that the best way to prepare for
pandemic production is to boost seasonal vaccination, which allows
capacity to be strengthened and switched to pandemic production when
Novartis said it would shortly release the results of tests showing the
efficacy of its existing adjuvanted flu vaccine against H1N1.
29 April 2009 (IRIN) - South Africa, the country with the most
resources in Africa, has two suspected cases of swine flu, but does not
have adequate supplies of the antiviral drugs known to be effective in
treating the rapidly spreading disease that has so far claimed more
than 150 lives in Mexico, according to an expert.
know for a fact we haven't stockpiled. If you don't have a national
stockpile, that's it – you're not going to get the drugs in time," said
Ed Rybicki, a virologist who teaches at the University of Cape Town.
In the absence of a vaccine for swine flu, antiviral medicines such as
oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) have been used to treat
Dr Lucille Blumberg, of the South African National Institute for
Communicable Diseases, confirmed on 29 April that two suspected cases
of swine flu were being investigated. South Africa is a major transit
hub for the continent and a destination of migrants.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has allocated a Phase 4 alert level
to the flu, which is two steps away from the pandemic phase but signals
the need for response and mitigation efforts.
know for a fact we haven't stockpiled. If you don't have a national
stockpile, that's it – you're not going to get the drugs in time
Dorothy Mwangu, a spokeswoman for Roche, the global pharmaceutical
company that manufactures Tamiflu, confirmed that the South African
government had a stockpile of the drug and said the company also kept
its own reserve of drugs to handle seasonal flu outbreaks at country
level, but could not comment on the specific quantities on hand in
The company had set aside key ingredients of the drug, but it would
take time to respond to any sudden major upsurges in demand. She said
the country's best bet was to maintain an adequate stockpile.
Neighbours such as Namibia have pinned their hopes on South Africa to
meet their drug requirements, should there be an outbreak. Mozambique's
national deputy director of health, Leonardo Antonio Chavane, said his
country did not have the antiviral drugs. "We use what we have."
Tamiflu is sold at a discounted price to developing countries, and a
box of 75 pills retails for about US$24 in South Africa. The government
had not responded to queries on the quantity of antiviral drugs
stockpiled at the time this story went online.
Rybicki, who is working on a flu vaccine, said if swine flu hit Africa
it might be nearly unstoppable because the continent's poor
surveillance capacity, higher disease burden than more developed
regions, and lack of drugs were a deadly combination.
"I think picking it up - outside of sophisticated centres - all over
the world is going to be difficult," he said. "Surveillance at airports
is almost nil - I reckon you can count the number of thermal scanners
in South Africa on one hand."
Screening a problem
Screening for the disease in Africa would mean locating it in a
population that already suffered from many fever-producing ailments,
like malaria, and could result in higher mortality rates, Rybicki said.
Developed countries often have standing orders with pharmaceutical
companies for vital drugs, so developing countries like those in
southern Africa may be out of luck when placing emergency orders for
medicines in high demand.
Swine flu is a respiratory disease in pigs, caused by type A influenza
viruses. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, people do not normally get swine flu, however, "swine flu
viruses have been reported to spread from person-to-person, but in the
past this transmission was limited and not sustained beyond three
Here is how some southern African countries have responded so far:
- Zimbabwean economist Innocent Makwiramiti said there was "zero
preparedness" for an outbreak. The country is still recovering from one
of the biggest ever cholera outbreaks, which claimed thousands of
lives. "There is no money to stock hospitals with drugs and it would be
a miracle for the government to mobilize funds needed to combat swine
flu that, as it were, seems far away."
- Frank Mwenifumbo, Malawi's deputy minister of agriculture and food
security, told IRIN that medical teams, including veterinary officials,
had been deployed at all entry points to ensure that the human strain
of the virus associated with pigs did not spread into the country.
- Zambia is placing a renewed emphasis on epidemiological surveillance
throughout the country, while working with the WHO and other
organizations to obtain drugs and set up the logistics to cope with a
swine flu epidemic, according to local media reports.
- There is concern whether Angola, which has a fragile health
infrastructure and a poor track record of responding to recent
outbreaks of cholera, rabies and polio, would be able to handle an
outbreak. The government has announced that it was "taking measures".
- Botswana's Ministry of Health has advised people who travelled to any
of the affected countries or have had contact with any person affected
by swine flu and developed a combination of symptoms to report to the
nearest health facility.
- Swaziland, which lacks capacity, will be assisted by the WHO country office to help monitor flu cases.
Terry Conway is on a top secret mission to Latin America on behalf of Socialist Resistance
which she’ll be blogging about shortly . Demonstrating that impeccable
timing which is the left’s hallmark she has been in Mexico for the last couple of weeks. She sent me this from Mexico City earlier today.
Having been in Mexico City since the
evening of Thursday April 23rd and read masses about swine flu since, I
feel that I’m becoming quite an expert especially for a non-medic. I
have been discussing the issue with friends here in Mexico and on line
with people back home since then. I have also read the excellent
article by Mike Davis.
My considered thoughts so far are
a) This is a serious disease which
has made a major genomic shift in the last month or so and needs to be
taken seriously in terms of health prevention and intervention measures
taken to protect people.
b) Intensive farming methods are
probably central to the development of viruses which can and do jump
species barriers. They should be opposed by the left for these reasons
- as well as many others. However we should not necessarily assume at
this stage that the pig complex in Oaxaca is the cause of this
outbreak. people should however demand public disclosure of
investigations into it - as has not happened on many other occasions
internationally (Bernard Matthews turkeys and ground water re avian
c) Much of the reporting of this
disease has been racist. Mike Davis’s approach which talks about the
spread of the disease across North America is accurate. The fact that
the Israeli government decided not to refer to the disease as swine
flu, it claimed in order not to offend either Jews or Muslims (who
apparently prefer having white phosphorus dropped on them than hearing
the name of an unclean animal??) but think it’s fine to call it Mexican
flu sums it up..
d) More generally much of the
reporting in Mexico, US and in Europe has been sensationalised. So
actually the numbers of confirmed deaths from swine flu in Mexico seem
to be somewhere between 7-22. However there are around 150 people who
have died from flu like symptoms in the last month. It is one thing to
say tests are still being done - another to include them in figures
which creates panic…But most of the Mexican press have reported them as
swine flu deaths.
I saw one report I think from
a US paper after there was a minor earthquake (5.5 on Richter Scale but
25 miles underground and no damage to people or property reported)
headlined something like Mexico hit by swine flu, earthquake and drug
wars. When I read it there was no new info on drugs wars - just the
stuff that went out on the wire around the time of Obama’s visit here
(about 10 days ago).It also turns out that the story that the man from
the Archaeological Museum who showed Obama around had died of swine flu
is untrue - he died of a heart attack due to an preexisting long
standing medical condition.
I see the Sun has had lots of coverage
which I haven’t been able to bring myself to open - they come up on
Google searches when you put in “swine flu”.
e) We don’t actually know whether the
genomic shift happened in the US or Mexico. We do know that more people
have died so far in Mexico - but there are are number of potential
reasons for this.
That people had been ill for some time
before they sought hospital treatment because they were generally fit
and healthy and didn’t know they had something serious.
That the level of healthcare is Mexico is poorer than in other countries where cases have so far been identified
That the level of poverty in Mexico is greater than in other countries where cases have so far been identified.
I suspect all these factors
and possibly others that have not been mentioned probably play a role
along with other things I have not thought of.
f) In terms of health prevention
measures some of what is being done here and internationally is common
sense, but there are big contradictions. In Mexico (and indeed in the
US and maybe elsewhere) these are enhanced by political disagreements
and opportunism (there areelections in most of Mexico at beginning of
July) between national and city governments.
So advising people to adopt
good hygiene practice makes sense always especially when there is a
specific danger - but there was a major water shortage in Mexico City
two weeks ago, and in Oaxaca next door to the Smithfield pig plant in
the state of Vera Cruz, I have never seen so many dried up river beds.
Offering people face masks certainly won’t increase the spread of disease but it’s not a panacea
Shutting theatres, night clubs, museums,
restaurants and schools and nurseries will have some preventative
effect but shutting down public transport would have a bigger impact.
But of course it would impact on the economy more too because no one
virtually would be able to work.
The stipulation that people keep six
feet distance from each other, which originally was advice from the US
embassy in Mexico to their citizens here has now been picked up by
everyone but is completely impractical for most people. Most people
live with others in space that doesn’t permit that and those that work
in either the formal or informal economy need to come closer to either
workmates or clients to carry out their jobs.
g) Restrictions on travel?
These are complicated. The
genome shift probably happened 1 month ago approximately and since then
people have travelled across the globe spreading the infection. On the
other hand if people receive decent medical care and don’t already have
susceptibility (medical or social) most people will recover. I would
argue therefore the priority should be for resources to places with
less eg Mexico as in “natural” disasters like floods or hurricanes.
In addition most border crossings in the
Americas probably take place by road not plane - although that’s
obviously not true for Cuba which has imposed a 48 hour ban on flights
to and from Mexico. Argentina has said 5 days. I am trying to find out
more about why. Of course it is true that planes (and long distance
coaches) are places where infections can be easily spread. But does
this mean people should be prevented using them just because they have
been in a country where there is an infection. I am not convinced it
makes medical sense and I think the social consequences could be very
Certainly having been involved in lots
of work around HIV/AIDS the movement has always opposed such measures.
Of course there is no medical analogy but I am not sure whether what
drives most of these discussions is medical facts. It is rather a
The decision of many governments and
the WHO to advise people not to travel to areas where there are high
numbers of cases seems sensible - although I would say this should also
include the south of the US. Airlines deciding that people can change
their flights is also to be welcomed (even though we know they have
done it to halt further drops in share prices which were badly hit over
the weekend). There has been a reduction by 60% in economic activity in
the capital since Friday - in a situation where the Mexican economy is
already suffering as part of the world downturn.
People are being screened leaving Mexico
- I will be able to tell you more about how that works in 24 hours time
assuming I get out - I know that I have to swear a statement on
entering Panama saying I am not ill - again more on this tomorrow.
Other countries are heat screening those from Mexico and then further
checking those with high temperatures. That seems sensible to me.
Of course I know I am biased - I want to continue my travels tomorrow but I do think it is more than that.
h) Civil liberties more generally
In Mexico certainly the government
and the army have been granted powers which have currently not been
used but could be if people started organising for their rights during
the epidemic or to crack down on other struggles that take place
alongside it. This is something people should be cautious of and I
think reinforces my points above.
It has of course been a strange
experience being here and having masks handed to you by the army.
Contrary to the first reports in the US press our experience was that
initially lots of Mexicans didn’t wear masks - and were not offered
them free as they were handed out in the tourist/middle class areas not
on working class estates never mind the shanty towns. On the other hand
we have not seen a single leaflet any language other than Spanish -
discriminating both against those Mexicans who speak indigenous
languages but at the same time hardly careful of the needs of tourists.
We have internet access so we are fine but if you don’t it must be v confusing and perhaps frightening.