Bird Flu Drills – how not to do them.

According to ABC news, the French authorities held a bird flu exercise in Lyons yesterday. An interesting example of a political simulation, proving nothing except that politicans think people are more gullible than we actually are.

For instance:
– the whole thing was watched on closed-circuit TV by the French Prime Minister and a large gathering of health officials and journalists
– the scenario was that two passengers arriving on a commercial flight felt ill, and the pilot diagnosed that they might have bird flu. (Good multi-skilling here… on British Airways youre lucky if the pilot says goodbye to you as you get off.)
– the two victims (one a feather salesman for a duvet company – nothing like a silly joke to add to the realism) were taken off when doctors in full protective gear boarded the plane.
– the patients were quarantined (but the other passengers were just kept track of, even though they had been sharing the same recycled air, sitting near the patients, etc., and had all come from the same South East Asian city)
– “A flock of government officials along with a gaggle of journalists then followed the “sick” patients to the hospital…Doctors from the infectious-disease unit swept in and wheeled each patient to an isolated, airtight room.”
– then there was a news conference to reassure the public.
– and, the report adds, “In the interest of time, the bird flu drill ended with a tour of the nearby drug company, Sanofi-Pasteur. ” (Fancy them being nearby. I wonder who paid for the drill….?)
– the French Prime Minister then “congratulated the hospital and the airport for a successful test”.

It annoys me, as a professional simulation exrcise organiser. You cant do a simulation like this with the world watching, because it is no longer a test, its just a demonstration. Short of the doctor tripping over his full protective gear, nothing is going to go wrong, is it?

The Independent points out that, at the same time, over 11,000 turkeys were being slaughtered at a farm in the Bresse region of France. The turkeys were suspected of having the flu virus, and come from near where two wild ducks died of it recently. So the exercise scenario, whilst not implausible, is at best only partly relevant.

Its clear from the tone of the ABC report that at least one journalist was skeptical.

The skepticism was not confined to foreigners. According to the Nouvel Observateur,
“… Devant des journalistes venus en masse -135 au total dont des Anglo-saxons et des Japonais- ….. Cet exercice, qui sest déroulé sur toute la matinée, a été une “réussite” selon le Premier ministre. “Nous avons vérifié le bon fonctionnement de la chaîne dalerte, nous nous sommes assurés de la qualité de la réponse médicale. Les agents du Samu, les personnels hospitaliers, les experts en virologie sont préparés à une telle situation”, a-t-il déclaré à la presse… Le chef du gouvernement a également promis que les pouvoirs publics feraient preuve dune “transparence totale sur léventuelle progression de la maladie”… [but the paper adds>…Le scénario était purement virtuel puisque, aujourdhui, aucun cas de transmission de lanimal à lhomme, ni dhomme à homme, na été détecté dans lUnion européenne.”

If this is a transparence totale, heaven help us.

Another drill at national level is promised for mid March. Book your seats now.

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