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01 May, 2009

Thinking It Through Fail

Last Wednesday, the World Health Organisation pushed its pandemic alert status for the recent swine flue outbreak up to 'five' (out of six). As far as the WHO is concerned, then, a pandemic is imminent.

The Australian government (and many others around the world) has its own pandemic plan which is keyed to the WHO alert levels. At 'five' various announcements should be made and actions taken under this plan. One of these is for Australians to stock up on food, water, household supplies, and basic medicines so that each household could last a fortnight without them.

Now this is obviously a recipe for triggering panic buying on a national scale, probably accompanied by punch-ups at checkouts and little old ladies being trampled to death in the rush to buy bags of sugar and other essentials. So the government has said that it won't be instigating this part of its (clearly stupid) plan. Presumably they will wait until the alert level hits 'six' and a pandemic is actually underway before they mention that people should have been stockpiling food so as to avoid the food riots that will then be starting up in all the major cities.

In fact, I suppose, like all governments everywhere, they are quietly hoping it won't come to that, that the pandemic won't happen, and that this is all a storm in a petri dish. Maybe they think that having your head in the sand is the best protection against viruses.

The fact remains, however, that the plan they have is rubbish. If a pandemic hits (and WHO thinks it is imminent) there will be food shortages, there will be shortages of all kinds of commodities. The government's plan for everybody to stock up against such an event is probably quite a good idea. Trouble is, they didn't think it through, did they? With typical stupidity, their thought processes only got so far and then petered out.

If you're going to announce, at alert level five, that every Australian should stock up for a fortnight, then at, oh level two or three, say, you should probably compel all the supermarkets to stock up for the big rush that's coming. That would be reasonable, wouldn't it? After all, in these days of just-in-time buying, the supermarkets and their suppliers are only keeping about three days of supplies. That's why everyone buying a fortnight's worth is such a problem. The supermarkets and even the wholesalers, would be cleaned out instantly with no chance of re-stocking.

Not only would it be impossible for people to buy a fortnight's worth of food, after the first lot had tried, there would be nothing at all for everybody else. It would be a catastrophe.

But how could the government compel the supermarkets to stock up for the level five announcement when the wholesalers don't have that much stock? How could the wholesalers stock up when many of the producers couldn't provide their produce fast enough? (They too are working on a just-in-time basis don't forget.) And then there's the question of compensation. If the government forces the suppliers to over-supply and the retailers to over-stock, what happens if the level five alert never happens?

In fact, whatever dimwit wrote that requirement into the government's pandemic plan (probably an extremely expensive consultant from one of the big consultancies) ought to be sacked. He or she is clearly an idiot.

Must stop now, I've got to get off to the shops before the breakfast cereal is all gone.

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