Mike Davis: Capitalism and the flu

Agri-biz at root of swine flu? Real News Network report, April 30, 2009.

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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."

No excuses

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 schoolbooks.

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.

[This article first appeared in Socialist Worker, newspaper of the International Socialist Organization (United States). It has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Tue, 04/28/2009 - 08:41


By Circles Robinson

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 BBC.

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

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 04/30/2009 - 10:04



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

US 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:

Clouds 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.

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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.

It 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 México.”

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 treatment plant.

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 production.)

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):

Smithfield’s 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.

Consider 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.

The 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.

False mental 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.

None 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 pandemic.

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.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 05/01/2009 - 19:13


By Andrew Jack in London

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 protection.

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 boost productivity.

In the past few years, the vaccine industry has been working with the World Health Organisation and policymakers to devise ways to expand vaccine capacity.

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 engineered.

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 Mexico.

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 necessary.

Novartis said it would shortly release the results of tests showing the efficacy of its existing adjuvanted flu vaccine against H1N1.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 05/01/2009 - 19:46


Image removed.
Photo: Joseph Kayira/IRIN Image removed.
Swine flu is a respiratory disease in pigs
JOHANNESBURG, 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.

"I 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 the disease.

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.

Image removed.I 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 timeImage removed.
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 South Africa.

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 people."

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.

Report can be found online at:

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sat, 05/02/2009 - 15:01


From http://liammacuaid.wordpress.com/

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 MexicImage removed.o 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 flu?)

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 dangerous.

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 social crackdowns.

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.