After the headline, the hysteria
The toll in India from the H1N1 pandemic rose this week, but a look at the screaming TV headlines and graphic visuals in newspapers would suggest a country under siege from something akin to the bubonic plague.
Dramatic headlines and graphic visuals in the media; reporters looking alarmed behind their masks; commuters with handkerchiefs and scarves around their mouths; and long lines of people outside screening centres, imagining the worst.
Even as the health minister and state officials appealed for calm and warned against hoarding masks and flu drug Tamiflu, the red splashes of breaking news and the tone verging on hysteria were unabated.
The World Health Organisation estimates the H1N1 swine flu could affect 2 billion people globally, and experts consider the pandemic to be moderate.
That hasn’t stopped the breathless media coverage, selling of masks and sanitisers at several times the usual price and panicky schools shutting down.
In fact, new U.S. guidelines discourage early closure of schools because the benefits of closing schools are outweighed by social costs such as unsupervised children and missed education.
Some newspapers did play down the hysteria: The Hindustan Times daily said many deaths could be attributed to late diagnosis and other complications, and reminded readers that 16 people died of malaria in Mumbai in the last two days alone. During the monsoon, gastroenteritis is a bigger threat than swine flu.
So how about some perspective and some calm?