By Darryl Mason
The first confirmed case of an Australian with swine flu, actually in Australia - but she had it in the US and claims she was no longer sick or showing symptoms when she boarded a plane to come home - is announced to massive media freakout on a slow news day.
So how did the Saturday 5pm news on Channel 10 in Sydney deal with one confirmed case of Australian Has Swine Flu! as the first story of the bulletin, without being too dramatic? Cut to newsreader questioning Some Expert :
Newsreader : Is it time to panic?It's like the declarations from government health departments and the World Health Organisation warning us, "Don't Panic!" as though there will come a time of "Fuck Yes, Panic Now!" announcements.
Some Expert : No.
Newsreader : Health Minister, there are now 2000 confirmed cases of ManBirdPig Flu in Australia, with dozens of deaths. Is it time now for the Australian public to panic?
Health Minister : "Yes. Yes I do think the time has come for everyone to panic."
Newsreader : Are you panicking right now?"
Health Minister : "Yes. I am panicking. This is me in a state of panic."
Newsreader : "Sorry, minister, I couldn't hear you clearly over what sounds like breaking waves and a game of beach volleyball in the background there."
Health Minister (off) : "....close the fucking door, Wayne!"
Newsreader : "Minister?"
Health Minister : "Sorry, it was...the TV...in my hotel room...in Canberra."
Newsreader : "Just how should the Australian people panic, minister? Should they go all out bat fucking shit crazy, and start killing their neighbours and salting their corpses for future meals when quality food will be scarce? Or should we remain in homes for a third month and watch TV and shiver just a little at this news and make little defeated wincing, sighing and choking-sob noises instead?"
Health Minister : "I'd advise against the gathering and preserving of other working families for later consumption, at this time. It is in the interest of all Australians to remain calm even as we move through this state of obvious and prolonged panic."
Newsreader : "So you're saying the Australian people should stay calm but feel free to panic?"
Health Minister : "Yes, as long as your frantic panic is confined to your home, and you don't break anything and you don't start grabbing your family members by the shoulders and shaking them as you scream 'God hates us! He really does!' over and over again until you fall exhausted and dehydrated to the floor."
Newsreader : "So we can panic, but we need to remain calm in our panic?"
Health Minister : "Yes, that's exactly correct."
Newsreader : "Thank you."
Health Minister : "Thank you."
Newsreader : "In other news, the NRL is reeling after more group sex allegations surfaced, but this time no females were involved..."
Health Minister (off) : "...that's what I told that clue-bat worthy idiot. I just can't believe how fucking doomed they all are back there."
Newsreader : "..........I'm sorry, it appears the health minister's microphone is still on and we are trying to get the..."
Health Minister (off) : "....well you tell Kev he should have thought about packing his own frigging hair dryer before we evacuated. And another thing, Wayne, if I'm going to be staying here for six months, I want a bungalow right on the beach, goddammit. I'm not spending half a year in Vanuatu living in some damp shack a half kay back from the frigging beach."
Newsreader : "In breaking news, the federal government and opposition have announced the relocation of Parliament to a well-defended, heavily stockpiled island in Vanuatu, for the immediate future."
I think there are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of people in Australia who have picked up the swine flu virus in the past five weeks or so, and because they are used to dealing with flu symptoms most years without feeling the need or urgency to see a doctor, they don't know they picked it up, suffered briefly and with no mammothic discomfort, and are now feeling much better.
It's a flu, one that will probably prove more fatal to those it infects than seasonal Influenza A viruses usually do, but it does not deliver vastly different symptoms than those 'usual' flu. You'll only know you've got or had ManBirdPig Flu once you've been tested by a doctor.
If the New Flu made your nose change into a snout, or made you puke out the inside of your own leg, then yes, it would be obvious you'd picked up H1N1 and dozens of people a week would be announced to have become infected.
Even if H1N1 turns into a pandemic and kills 2% of everyone it infects, these deaths are not going to happen all in one week or month or probably not even in the same year.
Twenty or thirty thousand Australians dying from HumanBirdPig Flu over 18 months will be big news, and the changes to the most basic functioning of society from widespread absenteeism will be monumental and unavoidable, but the deaths, if they come, will come in waves, across those many months.
With constant nightly news attention focused around the spread of a virus that is killing hundreds a week, even the news of an ongoing pandemic will get old for most, or will want to be mostly avoided by those who have already lost friends and family to the virus.
A pandemic killing tens of thousands of Australians in a year will be one of the biggest stories of the century, but it will be one of the hardest for the media to cover, respectfully, and without hysteria, and also maintain interest in.
The science is difficult, the lies and deceptions from governments about what is actually going on will be monumental and the visuals of people lining up outside hospitals, or bodies being carried from homes, the mass funerals, the quarantined being interviewed from behind their living room windows, and barren city streets and squares, will quickly become boring to most viewers.
A pandemic is not a fast moving story, at least not fast enough for the speed of today's news, it will crawl along, a tragedy that unfolds slowly filled mostly with intimate dramas behind the front doors of quarantined homes. And there will be months when nothing happens at all, when road accidents and heart disease deaths beat out pandemic influenza for 'Most Deaths This Month.'
I'm sure the evening news will give us maps of Australia with death tallies for each state and territory, too, if a pandemic becomes reality, and you'll know just how serious the pandemic actually is by whether the reporter 'on the scene' will be wearing a face mask or a full biosuit, breathing like Darth Vader.