Tuesday, 5 May 2009


The news at the moment is full of the Swine 'flu epidemic, though, from the numbers being published, "epidemic" is perhaps an abuse of the word. But that doesn't mean it won't become one. The great danger is of course in direct contact, person to person, or in being in close proximity to someone 'sharing' the virus with everyone else in close proximity. The closure of several schools in London is ample proof of the risk posed by children transferring the virus to their school chums.

But this is also where our current campaign by politicians and greenies is setting us up for the best possible transfer of the virus and its spread. Yes, I am having a go at the campaign to drive us all into mass transport systems and out of our cars. The buses are probably marginally better ventilated and therefore less infectious than the trains, which also tend to carry larger numbers and be more crowded. But London's Underground system has to be the most efficient environment for the transmission of Tuberculosis, Influenza and a wide range of other airborne bugs and diseases. I am reminded of this every time I have to travel on that system surrounded by coughing, sneezing or spitting fellow travellers. If you wanted to create a system guaranteed to promote a pandemic, packing the maximum number of people into a small poorly ventilated and poorly cleaned carriage in a tunnel ventilated by the movement of the train itself and you have it.

Looking back at the 18th and 19th Century living conditions in the UK, one is immediately struck by the fact that diseases tended to become epidemics very rapidly - because too many people shared too small a space in their homes, in the filthy streets and without proper sanitation. Even into the 20th Century tuberculosis was a major killer for the same reasons - and now it has made a strong return, and mass transport systems guarantee its spread. Someone actually needs to look carefully at this and, while I agree that 'public' transport is probably the only way to move the numbers of people we must in our cities, perhaps another strategy is needed to deal with the infection risks it brings.

But don't hold your breath, I can hear the civil servants already lining up to tell the relevant Ministers that it will cost too much and that it will annoy the Green Lobby or derail the Green Policy if they change anything. And frankly, the Ministers responsible, career politicians to a man and woman, haven't a clue anyway.

So let the pandemic roll, the government is all geared up to protect themselves and the rest of us can get sick. Some of my readers may recall a Treasury statement some years ago which argued that it was cheaper to kill people in fire than to rescue them and treat their injuries. They are a little more devious about it now, but the recent disclosure that they have spent millions on 'window dressing' for trying to show the emergency services can "mass decontaminate" thousands in a dirty bomb event is a case in point. The best defence against the spread of disease is prevention, but we are seeing precious little of that so far. In the meantime the lack of joined up thinking in Whitehall will allow the virus to spread rapidly through the transport system.

Makes me glad I don't have to use it anymore.  


  1. This is very true. The whole, let's cram everyone in together is an efficient method for all sorts of carnage. Viruses, bacterial infections, mass executions, you name it.

  2. The big problem is people have chosen to live in the cities. So you have to move them somehow. I don't see Londoner's taking to the idea of ripping down a crap load of buildings to make way for parking lots and freeways. As someone who lives in car loving America I know the joys of traffic and sometimes which for a decent public transport system. If we just could find a happy medium.