Why France? asked Marseille’s La Provence in an editorial. Avian flu was bound to hit domestic birds in Europe at some point, “but why so early” and why here? Until this week, in Europe only wild birds had been found dead of the H5N1 virus that’s been spreading from Asia across the world. France immediately took drastic steps to protect its poultry, requiring that all domestic fowl be housed indoors to prevent exposure to infected migratory birds. Yet, the virus has now hit a French chicken farm. “This shows that the disease is simply not stoppable, even in a developed country with advanced preventive techniques.”
A pandemic is now all but certain, said Michael Fabricius in Hamburg’s Welt am Sonntag. If France can’t stop the avian flu, then Nigeria, which has already registered several cases, certainly can’t. The disease will spread in Africa and eventually mutate into a form that can infect humans. Europe had better start preparing now “for the direst of emergencies.” There’s much we can do. Hospitals and factories should draw up plans to work with skeleton staffs, in case of quarantine. Schools should create study plans for homebound students. And “anyone who can work from home should procure a laptop.”
Such hysteria helps nobody, said Nicolas Barré in Paris’ Le Figaro. The virus hasn’t killed more than a handful of European birds, but the panic over it is threatening to kill the poultry industry. You can’t get bird flu by eating a bird, even an infected one, yet consumption of chicken has already plummeted by 50 percent across much of Europe. In Italy, “where confidence in the public health system is low,” poultry sales have fallen by a shocking 70 percent. France happens to be “the best prepared to handle an epidemic of any kind,” so its citizens haven’t behaved so ridiculously. Still, the bird flu hysteria in other countries hurts us enormously, because France is Europe’s leading poultry producer.
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Officials are doing their best to calm the public, said Wolfgang Merkel in the Berliner Morgenpost. They point out that the flu has been widespread for years in Asia, “where millions of people live in close contact with birds,” but it has not mutated to a form that can harm humans. Experts have gone on television to explain that songbirds and pigeons, the only birds most Europeans ever even see, can’t carry the virus. And politicians, including French President Jacques Chirac, are “ostentatiously” ordering chicken every time they dine out.
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