From Mexico to China and everywhere in between, the “swine flu” virus (also known by its scientific name, H1N1) has spread swiftly from a regional epidemic to a potentially devastating global pandemic. Not surprisingly, the media has been quick to sound the alarms and governments have been equally stringent in implementing anti-flu policies to stop its spread. But is the threat posed by swine flu really that great? And what is the best way to stop it? beijingkids assembled a diverse group to discuss the true danger of H1N1, how it’s influencing their lives in Beijing and what they would do to keep us all germ-free.
Fern Pugh, 14, UK, has lived in Beijing 4 years.
Tiia Romkainen, 18, Finland, has lived in Beijing for 1 year
Jim Tseng, 17, Taiwan, has lived in Beijing for 9 years
Robert-John Deetlefs, 18, South Africa has lived in Beijing for 3 years.
Are you scared of contracting swine flu, or do you think it’s been over-hyped?
Jim: I haven’t been close to anyone who has had it, but I’ve heard a lot about it on the news – it just seems everyone has different opinions.
Fern: I think it could possibly be a very big problem, but it might not affect me – it depends on how things turn out.
Robert–John: I think it’s been over-hyped; I’m not scared of it at all.
Tiia: I read a magazine where it said the World Health Organization have admitted to exaggerating the threat from the virus. But I still think I could catch it; someone told me that some people caught it in Sanlitun, so it’s possible.
Do you think that quarantining people as they enter a new country is a good idea, or is it too extreme?
Fern: I think it’s a really good approach to prevent the spread of it. With China’s population being so large, if loads of people enter China while infected, it could affect a third of the world’s population.
Jim: I also think it is a good idea to make sure that things don’t get out of hand. I don’t think it’s too much trouble. I actually know some people who’ve been in quarantine and they said it’s a bit boring, but they get free food, so it’s alright.
Robert-John: I don’t think they should quarantine everyone on the plane. I think they should just quarantine people suspected of having H1N1 and who have a high temperature and tell the rest of the people who could be infected just to stay at home for a while.
Tiia: I think it’s a bit extreme – one of my friends’ mums got quarantined, and my friend was really scared because he couldn’t contact her easily.
Have you changed any of your own habits as a result of swine flu?
Robert-John: Not really. My habits at home or anywhere else are basically the same.
Tiia: My ayi forces me to use anti-bacterial gel.
Fern: It’s probably made me more aware of what I’m doing; I should probably start washing my hands more often.
What precautions or changes do you see in everyday Beijing life?
Fern: There are loads of hand sanitizer gels everywhere. There are also loads of temperature checks wherever you go. At Crab Island you get your
temperature checked at the entrance, as well as the airport when you first land – which is quite scary when the woman comes up to you with a big infrared temperature gun.
Robert-John: I see a lot of people walking around in masks, which scares me because I think they’ve got H1N1 so I try to avoid them! I see a lot of hand sanitizer machines everywhere especially in schools.
Jim: In Beijing I haven’t seen many changes. I went to Taiwan, and they had more precautions to prevent the virus spreading.
Have you traveled abroad since the outbreak? What was that like?
Fern: Yes, I have. I went back to the UK to visit family. It’s OK – not much different to flying normally except there are more precautions and more forms to fill out. In the UK, it doesn’t seem to have had a big effect on the people.
Jim: No. I heard from two of my cousins in Japan that they do a lot more testing before you get on the plane.
Robert-John: Yes, I waited in the plane for about an hour and a half after landing at Beijing airport because they were scanning people.
Would you be less likely to fly to a country that has had a swine flu outbreak?
Jim: I wouldn’t go to Mexico, because that’s all I’ve really heard about, but as for other
countries, I wouldn’t mind going there.
Tiia: Yeah, Mexico’s not high on my list of holiday destinations right now.
Robert-John: If I was from there and had to go back to visit family, I would probably go but I wouldn’t choose it as a holiday destination.
What do you think is the best way of combating the virus?
Fern: I think the best way of fighting the virus is finding a vaccine and getting hospitals set up with anti-viral drugs to help those who are already ill. I think the best thing you can do to stop yourself from getting any type of flu is to see a doctor and if you do have it, to stay at home rather than go to public places.
Robert-John: I have seen on television in Hong Kong that they have information on general hygiene. They need to make people more aware that they can catch the virus and to be careful not to spread it.
Would you take anti-swine flu medicines, even though they might cause side-effects?
Fern: If it was spreading around me, I might. I’m not worried about the side-effects – it’s basically nausea.
Jim: At the moment, probably not, but if it happened to more people around me I might take them.
Do you think swine flu will be a bigger or smaller pandemic than bird flu?
Fern: I think it has the potential to be more of a threat because bird flu and swine flu could potentially merge to make a much more
dangerous strain that could cause a global death toll of 60 percent … or it could just fade away.
Jim: I’m not really sure about that, it seems like when the bird flu was happening, more people were worried. I don’t think this is going to be as big a problem.
Tiia: At the moment I think not, but I don’t know; maybe it will turn out to be a much bigger problem.