Monday, September 26, 2005

Predictable responses

Another Indonesian has died of bird flu and thirty four others are under observation (AP). Whether this is the sixth, as announced, or a higher number, we are seeing the beginnings of predictable cascading responses.

The island nation's traders in exotic birds have been hit hard.
"Many wealthy people are shying away from buying exotic birds. Most of our buyers now come from the lower income brackets, and they usually buy cheap pigeons for racing," said Hasyim, who said he was considering a change in profession.

The lack of business has not only affected the traders but also the parking attendants at the market. Maman, a parking attendant, said that during weekends and holidays he could earn as much as Rp 300,000 a day, but his earnings had fallen by about 75 percent since bird flu made the headlines.

Surabaya Zoo has also been hurting for business since the bird flu scare. When The Jakarta Post visited East Java's largest zoo on Saturday, there were very few visitors.

"Since the stories of bird flu killing birds at Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta a few days ago, few people have visited our zoo. But people should not worry because we check our birds every day," said zoo manager Liang Kaspe. (The Jakarta Post)
Indonesia's tourist industry is slowing and is bringing pressure on the government "to minimize the outbreak's effect on the industry." On its face the request is for a "transparent exchange of information" with other countries in the region, but a subtext is managing information and the message.

International trade is also being affected. Australia seized five metric tons of poultry meat from an unnamed Asian country or countries last week because of fears it might bring the virus. WHO lists 16 Asian countries as high-risk areas. These seizures have apparently been occurring periodically since July, when the first three cases appeared in Indonesia. But now a public announcement was made by Australia's justice minister, in a bid to reassure the public:
"We've seized several tonnes of poultry meat and associated goods and items, and I think the thing to remember is that in this case we shouldn't panic, we shouldn't cause undue public apprehension," he said.

"We're working closely with health and overseas organisations and we have our people posted overseas who are providing us with intelligence." (Radio Australia).
The first signal that panic is reasonable is frequently authorities telling people not to panic.

Australia is also taking blood samples from wild birds as the southern spring approaches (Reuters). The spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza to the poultry stocks of any nation would be a serious event. As the realization that poultry from many Asian countries is infected, we will see increasing pressure for restrictions in trade, commerce and possibly travel, with likely serious economic consequences, independent of any public health issues. The role of migratory birds in spreading the disease is a matter of controversy, with strong and sometimes vitriolic objections from the bird conservation community.

Wild and exotic birds,, zoos, parking attendants, the tourist and poultry industries, ordinary people. There will be many victims before this story is over.