Today, China informed the world that it had found its first two human cases of bird flu, including at least one fatality. The Chinese government is racing to vaccinate billions of chickens, ducks and other poultry in a massive effort to stop the spread of the virus. The government suspected a third case of bird flu in a 12-year-old girl who died, but her body was cremated before it could be tested.
Governments and businesses worldwide are gearing up for a potential deadly outbreak of the avian flu. U.S. President George Bush has already committed $7 Billion toward fighting the bird flu, while the world’s largest bank, Citigroup, has set up a bird flu taskforce to study prevention methods as well as the economic impact of an outbreak among humans. Some experts have estimated that the avian flu could have a negative economic impact of nearly $1 Trillion.
How is the threat affecting us currently? How will it affect society? Well, people in the non-European part of the world seem generally unconcerned so far. However, some companies, especially banks, seem to have adopted a proactive approach. U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers has held an off-site training session to prepare for bird flu, according to an undisclosed source familiar with the matter.
If a large-scale outbreak occurs, it would almost certainly affect the way the average person thinks about work, school, and social gatherings of any kind. Workplaces would be largely emtpy, as workers found ways to stay at home. Classrooms would also be non-existent, with children probably being considered ‘high-risk’ candidates to contract the flu. Sports leagues, which depend on ticket sales would be hit very hard. Even the trips to the supermarket would disappear as people find ways to lessen contact with each other.
In my experience, the more prepared we are for a catastrophe, the less likely it will occur. Thus, I believe that the bird flu will not amount to much (remember SARS?) and life will find a way to go on as normal. But, perhaps we should all be thinking now about how such an epidemic might change our lives, and even how we might look beyond what we see today, and try to envision what the world might look like years from now.