Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Preparing for smallpox and the Asylum Cry

The Guardian reports today that plans for dealing with an outbreak of smallpox in Britain have been published. The arrangements include the establishment of emergency clinics, to be co-located with district general hospitals, within 24 hours of a smallpox case being confirmed anywhere in the world. These sites would require 140 staff each, who the regional health authorities are now to select. These persons would be the first group of people to be vaccinated immediately on a threat being identified. The clinics' task would be to isolate and observe all suspected cases, vaccinate contacts and any other groups, and treat any unfortunates who develop the disease. The first set of guidelines issued some time ago for this case suggested that the clinics would be set up away from any centre of population, but it would appear that practicality has won through.

All well and good, then - no wonder this article from the Canadian National Post suggests that Britain might be one of the few countries that could survive a flu pandemic. But what is wrong with us when - even in this desperate crisis - it is necessary to say that illegal immigrants who came forward to report suspected disease would be given immunity from prosecution (and, I hope, from smallpox as well)? Why has this psychosis seeped into absolutely everything? I'm sure that one day it will be remembered as one of the periodic panics that sweep through societies, like the Chinese Labour Cry or radon gas or Flesh Eating Bug. Rather like the one issue every nation has that seems absolutely vital to them but bewilderingly trivial to everyone else, people in the future will stand uncomprehending before the screaming headlines and hypocritical rantings yellowing in the archives. What was it all about - after all, it made up only 0.4% of public spending? Where did all the hate come from?

And in this weird country, 20 feet from me right now, two carpenters speaking what sounds like Russian are repairing a toilet cubicle..
Perhaps they wouldn't be so bemused if they were to read David Blunkett's insane remarks to the BBC today. "I need to ensure that people feel safe, that they are not egged on by those who would use insecurity and instability and difference as a method of whipping up racism and xenophobia", he said in an effort to defend his exciting new Asylum and Immigration Bill, which would permit him to withhold state benefits from rejected asylum seekers and take their children away if they refused to make a voluntary departure. So - we're going to be xenophobic in order to keep the xenophobes from getting in and being - well - xenophobic?

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