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Heather Roy's Diary

Heather Roy's Diary

Influenza revisited

Wellingtonians will be familiar with the case of Bahati, a young chimp from Wellington zoo, who recently died of human influenza despite the best care that vet or doctor could provide. By contracting human influenza he demonstrated what is meant by influenza "jumping the species barrier". For unknown reasons when influenza does this the resulting infection tends to be particularly severe.

Bahati's case does not mean that the bird flu pandemic has reached New Zealand because he suffered from ordinary human influenza. Overseas bird flu has spread to Europe causing heavy casualties amongst birds, but so far H5N1 (avian influenza or bird flu) has not established itself amongst humans.

For the moment there is no human epidemic and there have been no reported cases of the bird flu virus in New Zealand. Sometimes it is an advantage to be a long way from the rest of the world. There is also another advantage in being "down under" as we are currently moving into summer. Influenzas tend to be much worse in winter so we have a six-month period of lower risk during which we can monitor events in the rest of the world.

The question that most people ask is "What can I do to be ready for an epidemic?" The simple answer is that the response has to be coordinated by the authorities. A recent "Time" magazine article commented on responses to the 1918 epidemic in the USA. The authorities worried excessively about population panic. However, if people have risks explained to them, most won't panic and many will volunteer to help. In 1918 the authorities in San Francisco were unique in being up front with their population. Volunteers trained for ambulance duties and nursing auxiliaries were also trained. Many of these people took huge personal risks but at the end of the day San Francisco had the lowest mortality of any major city in the United States. We don't have to worry about the people panicking - we only have to worry about the people in charge panicking.

Identity Confusion Disorder

New Zealand First MPs seem to be suffering from a new condition - Identity Confusion Disorder. Last week there was much discussion about seating in the debating chamber - in particular about whether Winston and the New Zealand First caucus would sit on the government side of the house or on the opposition benches. The general feeling was that if Winston is Minister of Foreign Affairs and has an agreement to support the Labour government on matters of confidence then it was more appropriate for him to sit on the government side of the house. New Zealand First however didn't agree.

The latest edition of the Economist has an article about "Helen Clark's creative government-making" entitled 'A beast with several backs'. The Economist asks if it is possible for a party to join a government and stay in the opposition at the same time - a very good question. The article goes on to say that Helen Clark has "entered into peculiar agreements with two smaller parties" and comments that "Winston Peters, the leader of New Zealand First, will be foreign minister - probably the only one ever anywhere from outside cabinet". The highly respected Economist obviously thinks Labour's arrangements are decidedly odd.

Media releases put out this week by other New Zealand First MPs clearly show they consider themselves part of the opposition, indicating that they are most unhappy with their Leaders commitment to supporting the Labour led government.

I can't help wondering if Winston Peters in his new role of Foreign Affairs Minister is attempting to model himself on Germany's longest standing Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. His party - the FDP (Free Democratic Party) - famously switched sides in 1982 from its coalition with the Socialist Democratic Party to support the CDU/CSU (Christian Coalition) in their Constructive Vote of No Confidence to replace Helmut Schmidt with Helmut Kohl as Chancellor. The switch created great controversy but Genscher retained his foreign minister and vice chancellor posts until he stepped aside in 1992. Winston Peters has shown his ability to switch sides but he has some way to go in meeting Genscher's free market credentials.

Investigation underway

New Zealanders can rest easy today in the knowledge that a Ministry of Consumer Affairs investigation is underway into Dummies/Pacificers. A discussion document has been produced and consultation invited with submissions closing on 9 December. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs reports that 15 complaints about pacifiers have been received since 1988 and "maintaining the status quo is not considered a desirable option as the potential injury risk remains". The concern is around small parts breaking away - what the discussion document doesn't say is who is to blame if small parts attach to a dummy when it falls out of a toddlers mouth then is reinserted and results in inhalation of these other foreign small parts


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