Flu panic

Well, since the Rada (Parliament) made some decisions regarding news that the flu (not just H1N1, by the way) is in epidemic proportions in Ukraine, we are beginning to see how a panic might look. We were used to responses to storm warnings in the U.S. — milk, toilet paper, batteries, etc. became in short supply. And I remember news reports showing folks sporting face masks when the SARS outbreak hit Asia. The declaration that schools would be closed for a minimum of one week though probably for three weeks, movie theatres would be closed until further notice, presidential campaign gatherings were cancelled…all of this began to sink in over the weekend.

But now we have a flu panic in Ukraine. On the way to church this morning I stopped counting how many people were wearing masks: medical masks, scarves, some homemade from cotton batting. It appeared that maybe one in 10 or one in 20 on the metro was covering mouth and nose, if not by masks then by turtlenecks or zipping coats up high.

Even during the church service several in the congregation wore masks. Lots of questions for Jim. And they gave him a few minutes at the end of the service to promote some basic preventive measures, stressing the need to wash hands many times a day.

When we returned home we learned of some new measures being taken: per a local English-language newspaper (Kyiv Post) President Yushchenko has ordered local government agencies to shut all markets! How are people supposed to eat? Supermarkets will remain open, presumably, but by shutting down the markets where we all buy fresh produce seems a bit extreme. Not only do we have to pay higher prices for these products at the grocery store (no competition anymore!), but the vendors have just lost their livelihood! Face mask production should be up to 1 million per day within the next few days.

Reports are that 48 have died of H1N1 in Ukraine with another 150,000 people sickened by the virus.

WHO is sending a team of experts to Ukraine early this week.

So, with all of the meeting closures, cinemas shut down, schools on vacation, why is it that we are going to the National Opera House tonight with some of our favorite orphans to watch a production called The Night Before Christmas, a Ukrainian classic. I asked our friend Sasha about this and he smiled and said that the National Opera House is a national treasure. It won’t be closed. (He did call to be certain that it would be open for the performance this evening.) I chuckled to myself thinking that in this live production, not only is the audience potentially sharing the flu with others, but also the performers! Not sure why this is considered safer than a movie theatre…

Looking forward to an entertaining evening.

(I’ll let you know how many folks are wearing masks…)

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