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.