Friday, May 01, 2009

To Stockpile Or Not To Stockpile

By Darryl Mason

A "run on the shops" to stock up on enough food and water to last your household for two weeks of voluntary home isolation is exactly what's needed to pump those $900 bonuses straight back into the economy :

The Federal Government's pandemic plan, a 132-page manual issued to medics, media and the public, insists that once the world reaches phase five, Australians should stock their pantries with food and bottled water to last 14 days, check on elderly neighbours and put emergency numbers by the phone.

But yesterday a spokesman for the Department of Health and Ageing called for calm, saying the Government did not want to spark panic buying - ignoring its own plan, already issued to hospitals across the nation.

"I agree that is it confusing," the spokesman said, admitting he had not read the pandemic plan despite being employed to answer questions about it from national media. "The manual may say people should be preparing but we don't want a run at the shops," he said.

It doesn't matter what the government wants. The people will do whatever they think they have to do to ensure their loved ones are going to get through whatever is coming next.

Woolworth's getting emptied in a weekend of fevered stockpile shopping is the least of their problems if an influenza pandemic is on the verge of being declared (if it hasn't already inside the government).

The pandemic response plans made back in 2005 and 2006 were deadly serious, very detailed. Most didn't read them. It's not too late to get some of the highlights of how prepared you are expected to be for something most didn't even know was coming this time last Friday morning :

Residents are advised to stock their pantries with drinks, including three litres of water for each person each day, dried and long-life food such as canned meals, toilet paper, batteries, candles, matches, manual can openers and water sterilising tablets. Analgesics, masks, gloves, a thermometer, disinfectant and prescription medications should also be stockpiled and people should have enough supplies to stay in their homes for 14 days.

Householders should also have plenty of tissues, alcohol-based hand-wash dispensers in kitchens and bathrooms, and soap and disposable towels near all sinks, the manual says.

14 days.

And three litres a water a day is the minimum you need per day, it doesn't include water for washing clothes, or bathing.

If you had to take the family off to a central coast holiday house for two weeks, and the house had nothing but the kitchen basics, what would you take with you if you thought you wouldn't be able to get to the shops? And the place might run out of running water? And electricity?

Here's a story from 2006 detailing just how extensively Australian businesses were preparing back then for an influenza pandemic. The public fear then was of a bird flu pandemic, but Australian and American government response plans were always for the "inevitable" influenza pandemic, not a pandemic of just one type of influenza :
Mounting fears of an avian flu outbreak amongst humans has caused Australian businesses to stockpile anti-viral drugs and face masks and make definitive plans for how they will continue to operate when almost half of their workers may be off work, either ill or looking after someone who is.

Pandemic risk committees already exist within major companies such as Bluescope Steel and Telstra while the Commonwealth Bank has appointed a pandemic planning project manager.

Expanded computer networks to enable staff to work from home in the event of an outbreak have been included in the preparations against bird flu.

Through its relationship with medical support agency International SOS, BHP Billiton, has stockpiles of anti-viral drugs in regional offices considered at high risk.

The Bank of Queensland has proposed to implement basic hygiene education for staff. According to immunologists this measure would help to reduce the spread of disease if a pandemic develops.

Businesses have been advised to plan for up to half their staff being absent due to illness, or caring for sick family members or children because of school being closed.

As immunologist Ron Penny said," There's no strong recommendation that people who have a seriously infectious disease should stay at home. I think we need to educate people".

Federal Government advisers have warn that economically, Queensland would be the hardest hit of any Australian state with even a modest level pandemic causing a loss of about $11 billion, off the Gross State Product (GSP) in the first year alone.

According to Telstra's network services managing director Michael Lawrey preparations for the likelihood of a pandemic were slightly higher in intensity than planning for other business risks such as fires, cyclones and floods.
Don't worry, Australia's biggest businesses are well prepared if the World Health Organisation raises its pandemic threat level to 6 (its highest) over the weekend, or if the Rudd government officially announces we may all have to think about taking a 10 day long 'home-cation" sometime soon.

But how prepared are you?

Just in case.