Friday, June 17, 2005

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow . . .

Canadian Press (the reliable Helen Branswell) has more from the famous Osterholm "we're screwed" press briefing. Osterholm reiterated what he and others have said elsewhere and often. Planning is essential and there hasn't been enough of it. He pointed to the need to ensure food supplies as especially critical:
Osterholm said the "just-in-time" delivery model by which modern corporations operate means food distribution networks don't have warehouses brimming with months worth of inventory.

Most grocery store chains have only several days worth of their most popular commodities in warehouses, he explained, with perhaps 30 days worth of stock for less popular items.

He pointed to the short-term shortages that occur when winter storms threaten communities, then suggested people envisage the possibility of those shortages dragging on for somewhere between 18 months and three years as the expected successive waves of pandemic flu buffet the world.

"I think we'll have a very limited food supply," he said in the interview.

"As soon as you shut down both the global travel and trade . . . and (add to it) the very real potential to shut down over-land travel within a country, there are very few areas that will be hit as quickly as will be food, given the perishable nature of it."
Given the non-local nature of so much of our food supply, we can add (possibly severe) food shortages to the list of woes a shutdown of both local and international trade and commerce will produce. The list is long. A few other items (from WebMD):
Osterholm complains that U.S. officials and companies have not planned for the widespread logistical disruptions that would result if bird flu were to spread within the next couple of years. His warnings range from inadequate planning for hospital overcrowding to the fact that the U.S. market has only 2.5-week supply of caskets.

Local and federal agencies have not planned for widespread disruptions to schools and workplaces as the public is told to stay home and gymnasiums are converted to emergency medical facilities, he says. Travel restrictions and a run on vital supplies, such as masks able to filter flu viruses, would "no doubt" lead to an economic shutdown, he adds.


Others offer equally stark warnings that the U.S. has not engaged foreign governments over how nations will react in the event of a global pandemic and economic standstill. Poor and middle-income governments have already begun to complain that they are being left out as industrialized countries make deals to buy stockpiles of antiflu medications, says Laurie Garrett, the council's senior fellow for global health and a former journalist.

"We have no agreed-upon mechanisms of any kind," Garrett says. "This could turn into a big, bloody mess."
So here's my question to our national health officials: WHAT'S THE PLAN NOW?