Depending on which paper you read this week, you could be forgiven for thinking you were living in two different countries.
In swine flu apocalypse Britain, people faced being “put in quarantine” (Daily Express), banned from major sporting events (Daily Telegraph), and even delaying plans to have children (Daily Express again) amid predictions of 750,000 deaths (Daily Sport).
Meanwhile the BBC came under fire for stockpiling Tamiflu for staff working abroad (Mirror), and swine flu even threatened to succeed where bankers have so far failed by creating a “long deflationary recession” (Daily Telegraph).
The Mail on Sunday got the prize for most ridiculous swine flu story with its claim that “doctors want guards on the doors of hospital… in case the families of swine flu victims become violent if they are refused treatment”.
But in another calmer Britain, The Times’ resident medic, Mark Porter, warned against hyperbole, reminding readers who were presumably by now cowering under their kitchen tables with shotguns that in most cases the illness causes “mild symptoms”.
Royal College of GPs chair Steve Field labelled warnings to pregnant women to avoid crowds and put off pregnancy “completely disproportionate” in the Daily Mail, saying it “adds to the sense of hysteria and panic that seems to be engulfing the nation”.
The Daily Telegraph’s house doctor, Max Pemberton, told of “legions” of patients descending on hospital accident and emergency departments with flu symptoms, threatening to infect seriously ill patients despite being told to stay home and take paracetamol by NHS Direct. “The real risk to health right now is other people’s panic,” he said.
Let’s hope in Fleet Street that message is as infectious as H1N1.