The Great Flu Of 2009

Is it time to start panicking yet? The number of deaths in Thailand for the swine flu (called The Great Flu of 2009 by the Thai media) has reached at least 66. We don’t know exactly any more as they are only updating us with information once a week. Plus, unless they do tests for the flu on everyone that dies, we will never know the full number. Then, last Friday I discovered that at my school we have already had at least a dozen confirmed cases of the flu. This again could be much greater because not everyone goes to the hospital to get tested. I thought this process would at be free or at least a minimal cost. But, apparently it will set you back 3,000 baht. Some parents have reported that it cost them as much as 6,000 baht for a test. So, there could be a lot more out there that don’t really know as they cannot afford to get a test done. Then, when I went into school this morning, there were several hundred students all of whom were coming down to assembly wearing face masks. It looked like we had gone beyond wearing face masks if we had a cold to a situation that people were wearing masks in order to protect themselves from other people.

I would say people are not going out so much these days. I had to go to the shopping mall last weekend and found it very easy to park the car. Cinemas and concert organizers are also reporting fewer numbers at the moment. On tv the other day I saw a live broadcast of a boxing match and many people in the stadium were wearing face masks. Are people starting to get paranoid? Am I getting paranoid? Well, I am not wearing a mask yet, but I do wash my hands at least a dozen times a day. I also open the door with my elbow and push lift buttons with my wrist. I have stopped going to the cinema and I now avoid shopping malls or confined areas with large amounts of people. At school I guess I should be extra careful. I teach kindergarten and they are always touching my arms or wanting to shake my hands. Other teachers are luckier as greetings are done by placing your hands together in a prayer like gesture and there is no contact. However, outside of school I shouldn’t be so paranoid. After all, we probably have another year of this to go if not longer. And anyway, the number of deaths so far are relatively few.

I found out later today that the reason that so many students were wearing face masks as these had been distributed to every student in Samut Prakan by the local health authority. They also gave to each student a free tube of anti-bacteria gel that uses alcohol to disinfect your hands. We of course had to tell the students that they must rub their hands until it dries and that if they try to light a cigarette while their hands are still wet then they might cause a fire! Another new measure at our school is that all students have to wash their hands before entering the computer rooms. We are also cleaning the mouse and keyboards more often as these are a possible source of infection. In the classrooms, the students have to do a more thorough job of cleaning the room. And the school cleaners have to spend more time cleaning handrails and door handles. Even local government offices have their own strict measures. On Friday I had to go the local Social Security office. Not only did they tell me to wash my hands before I could enter, they also took my temperature. I guess if I had a high temperature then I wouldn’t be allowed to go inside. How much longer do they reckon we need to keep this up? Two or three years? I am not sure if I can last without becoming a kind of “wacko jacko”. But at least it is teaching us more about personal cleanliness.

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