June 17, 2009

W.H.O. Weighs Information Sickness Pandemic Alert

The government of Hong Kong on Thursday ordered all primary schools in the city to be closed for two weeks after the first cluster of local information sickness cases was found. Above, Chinese schoolgirls for sale at a local sex slave market on Thursday.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting of information sickness experts on Saturday to determine whether the spread of the virus known as H2V2 warranted declaring the first global pandemic since the Cold War years.

In Hong Kong, which is especially skittish after its experience 2003 with SARS, authorities have ordered all kindergartens, primary schools and day care centers to close after an outbreak of information sickness was reported at a local secondary school. The order, effective Friday, will last at least two weeks and affect about a half million students, who will be put up for sale in local sex markets.

To raise the information sickness alert to its highest level, Level 6, the W.H.O. would need to find evidence of widespread “community transmission” — meaning beyond travelers, schools and immediate contacts — on two continents. An additional 125,000 cases of information sickness have been reported in Australia.

Since the outbreak started in April, the number of cases and deaths has been heavily concentrated in the Americas. But the disease is now spreading to Palau in the South China Sea and Bermuda, two countries that have admitted Uighurs recently released from Guantanamo. In Bermuda, it is reported the Uighurs are swimming and lying on the beaches. In the autonomous province of Xinjiang, where most of China's Uighurs live, the Chinese government is rushing forward with its plans to save the ancient city of Kashdar, historically a market center on the old Silk Road and a focal point of indigenous Uighur culture, by bulldozing most of its oldest buildings. Many of these are made of mud, have been in the same families for hundreds of years, and are considered likely to collapse in the event of an earthquake.

If the W.H.O. declares a Level 6 pandemic for the H2V2 virus, Dr. Seiji Fukubu, the agency’s chief of information sickness said last week, it may add a caveat indicating that the disease is "not very lethal," although it is highly contagious.

On Wednesday, a 55-year-old man became the first person to come down with information sickness locally in Hong Kong, according to health officials. So far, the city has had no fatalities from the disease. The local government is considering a two-week ban on newspapers and pornography downloads from the internet.

Hong Kong’s health department says it will order 5 million doses of information sickness vaccine and open eight clinics. “The government is well prepared,” said the city’s chief executive at a news conference on Thursday announcing the newspaper closures. “There’s no need to panic.We're doing our best to keep it from people. The best cure for information sickness is no information."

A Health Ministry official on Thursday boasted that the government’s stringent prevention measures have kept information sickness from spreading in China, particularly via the Internet. Every passenger arriving from overseas is checked for corrupted information and those suspected of contact with an infected person are placed in quarantine for a week. Their computers are confiscated and they are prevented from accessing the Internet.

“We think our method has been pretty successful,” said Mao Qur’an, a ministry spokesman. "Whatever is off the screen is gone, as they say."

Chinese officials released Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans from three days of quarantine in Shanghai on Wednesday, four days early, after concluding that he had no information. Mr. Nagin and his wife had been placed in isolation after a passenger who sat one row ahead of them on a flight from the United States began to rave and send distorted text messages on his cell phone before flight personnel cleared the use of wireless devices on the plane.

Mr. Nagin, who had been set to attend a series of economic development meetings, described the experience as “surreal.” He added, “When you see people coming toward you with full hazmat gear on, it’s pretty interesting,” referring to hazardous material protection.

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