According to press reports, a new kind of flu, apparently linked to pigs, has spread in Mexico City. More than 60 people have died, more than 1,000 hospitalized. All schools and most public buildings have been closed indefinitely until further notice. Several cases have been reported in the US as well. Japan and Brazil have reacted by starting to screen all incoming passengers from Mexico.
This could fade away into nothing. Or turn into something big. No idea. But remember SARS? It basically managed to shut down half of Asia for several months. And while it was more deadly than this new illness seems to be, it didn't spread so easily, i.e. it wasn't too hard to contain it once people were fully aware of it.
Imagine an illness that makes a few hundred million people seriously sick for several weeks, kills a few million, and essentially shuts down public life for a few months. Just the right thing for a world economy struggling to recover from a mega-recession.
Hmmm. Economists have weird priorities, I suppose: Instead of worrying about the economy, we should probabably worry more about falling sick and dying...
Edit/Update: In the office today (Monday), several (female) colleagues were downright panicky. They were (in all seriousness) discussing about how they are way too young to die, how society might collapse, etc. When I pointed out that even a very serious epidemic with several million dead worldwide would imply that each individual only faces a 0.1 % likelihood of dying (probably less in the developed world with access to medication), they nodded, but I had the impression they were just waiting for me to leave the room to be able to continue with their doomsday scenarios...
Update (Monday evening): According to BBC, 149 people have now died, and all of them are aged 20-50. That people in this age group are apparently dying in large numbers is indeed a bit worrying.
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