For years the government have said that should a pandemic flu occur, with the most likely source likely to have been or still be in the future avian H5N1 flu, that we in Britain were the "best prepared in the world". Yet the government announced today that the health authorities had effectively lost the battle after two months and that with an anticipated 100,000 infections expected each day in late August, prevention was now virtually impossible and the government's strategy was moving to treatment.
So how have the government lost control in such a short amount of time ?
In the first instance, the government failed to stop people travelling to Mexico in the very early stages of the outbreak of swine flu. The outbreak of swine flu parts of Scotland can be directly linked to the fact that people were still being allowed to travel to Mexico after swine flu was detected and apart from the handing out leaflets upon travellers return in a rather haphazard was, no effort was genuinely made to monitor those who returned.
The next thing the government got completely wrong was that they assumed that flu would just "bubble away" without spreading wildly, simply because it was summer. They seem to forget that the 1919 influenza pandemic actually started in the spring of 1918 and actually accelerated fairly steadily throughout the summer in Britain. The only reason this is not recorded is because of wartime reporting restrictions. History, it appears, was no guide for this incompetent government.
The government then made a further very serious mistake trying to prevent the World Health Organisation from declaring the outbreak a pandemic. Britain was one of the main countries that put pressure on the WHO to change their definition of what a pandemic was in order to delay the enforced manufacturing of pandemic swine flue vaccine. Why ? So they could finish the seasonal flu vaccine production. The logic of this decision is mystifying as seasonal flu works on the basis of preventing a possible outbreak whereas pandemic swine flu is a very real and imminent outbreak. The UK government decided that seasonal flu takes priority when it actually seem clear that seasonal flu will be dwarfed by swine flu. This delay in switching to swine flu production means that we will have to wait until the last weeks of August before vaccine arrives. The first vaccines could have been arriving in late July, with 8 million being vaccinated by the end of August had the government acted sooner.
Now, having lost control, the government says we must move towards "treatment", but on the BBC News tonight they report that a planned pandemic flu phone line for people to call, report symptoms and arrange to pick up antivirals (tamiflu) will not be operating until October. That's a full six months after swine flu originated in Mexico. If the government cannot organise a help line in six months, how the hell should that give us any confidence in what they are doing ?
There are more worrying things though that have arisen from the whole swine flu outbreak.
The UK government's watering down of WHO rules about what constitutes a pandemic mean that should an H5N1 outbreak occur in the future (and remember the death rate for H5N1 is more than 60%, even with Tamiflu), the WHO are now restricted in declaring a pandemic. If that means we get to the stage where 100,000 people are being infected every day after four months of an H5N1 outbreak, we could have 60,000 deaths a day !
The government have also been lucky in that this swine flu outbreak appears to respond to tamiflu. The UK government's strategy for Pandemic Flu has been based almost 100% around tamiflu for many years despite the fact that bird flu H5N1 is starting to become resistant to Tamiflu. And whilst H1N1 Swine Flu responds to Tamiflu, another major H1N1 flu is circulating in the far east which is already Tamiflu resistant, so if H1N1 Swine Flu forms a hybrid with the Far East H1N1, our tamiflu will be useless.
There is though another treatment, Relenza. However the UK government has only 1 million doses of Relenza compared to 50 million doses of Tamiflu. Talk about putting all your eggs in to one basket. Yes, the government did belatedly place an order for more Relenza earlier this year, but even Relenze does not stop or alleviate the effects of a cytokine storm (the body's over reaction) as a result of flu, which is the thing that kills many younger fitter flu victims.
The truth of the matter is that despite this government's claims to be the best prepared in the world, the UK government have made too many mistakes, allowed too many delays and have failed to act on the things they could easily have done like setting up help lines.
Thank the lord that this is just a mild H1N1 Swine Flu and not full blown H5N1 Bird Flu, which could and will mutate to a human flu at some point as swine flu did, because this government have not got a clue.