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May 13, 2009

Brian Kirsch:Pigs may fly… and so will Swine Flu

The managing director of Event Assured says taking sensible precautions over swine flu is to be recommended, but that the hysteria that has resulted in the cancelling of events has to stop.

Take the middle out of ‘pandemic’, and you get ‘panic’, which is exactly what has been created by a worldwide media frenzy surrounding the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico.

Let us put this all in perspective – every year, regrettably 3,000-4,000 people in the UK die from flu. In the US, the figure’s nearer 20,000. However, malaria kills more than a million people a year die, 90% of them in Africa, with 70% being children under five, yet there is no media outcry about this.

Malaria is endemic in large parts of the world, yet the World Health Organisation or the FCO does not advise against travelling to these countries because of that, they just advise people to take adequate precautions.

Plagued by over-reaction
The current strain of wine flu appears to be not much worse than a bad cold (according to a girl in London who had the illness), yet the world has reacted as if it is the Plague. The over reaction is absurd. We hear of events being cancelled, large multi-nationals imposing travel bans, and even putting employees in quarantine because they have been to the US, not even Mexico!

At another event I hear that the client insisted on having ambulances, paramedics and supplies of drugs (Tamiflu probably) in case delegates were taken ill.

Now, I’m all for sensible precautions like being careful not to sneeze into the air, careful hygiene and hand-washing, but this is ridiculous. I suspect this type of reaction is driven by health and safety paranoia – a state of mind induced by too much H&S legislation and too many rules.

Outbreak of hysteria
The world is in an economic mess, and the events industry is suffering at least as much as everyone else. One could cynically observe that with so much bad economic news around, the prospect of something worse (“a pig plague”) is a way of diverting attention away from the economic problems and might put all of that into a different perspective.

It’s bad enough that US politicians are trying to stop American companies in receipt of government support from holding incentives or other events, which might involve some enjoyment, but what we don’t need is mass hysteria over an outbreak of a relatively mild virus.

We are entitled to demand that the media stop writing the story for what its worth (as they say), because this story is not worth a pig’s ear.

Brian Kirsch is managing director of Event Assured and chairman of the Eventia Regulation Committee

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