I once asked a doctor how to avoid catching a cold. He said to wash my hands and keep three feet away from everyone. Problem is — that’s no fun. Matters of politics, human relations and cultural mores operate at closer quarters.
Argentina is in the grip of what seems to be a full-blown swine flu epidemic, call it what you will — H1N1 or influenza A. The country’s health minister has announced 44 deaths as a result of the epidemic.
All the heightened awareness has been publicized in the week after President Cristina Kirchner and her husband, former president Nestor Kirchner, saw their governing Peronist Party lose badly in national elections, deemed a referendum on the Kirchners’ hold to power.
Some people wondered whether the elections should have been delayed as the flu epidemic started taking hold. The Buenos Aires newspaper, La Nacion, reports that the government cited 1,587 flu cases days before the Sunday elections, and may have been undercounting.
Suddenly, this week the count of infections is running much higher — perhaps as many as 100,000 cases so far. All along, one theory was that the Kirchners, facing low polling numbers, were trying to rush the election no matter what before their popularity got even worse.
Just after the election results, the health minister resigned. Her replacement, Dr. Juan Manzur, announced a series of measures to keep down the number of flu infections.
School trips were delayed, federal and state courts sessions were in recess, and sports and cultural events are postponed around Buenos Aires and the provinces. People have taken to wearing masks, pregnant women and the infirm can take time off from work and people with symptoms are encouraged to stay out of crowds. And officials say the national drink, yerba mate, may be a healthy choice — but avoid sharing and passing it around as is usually done, in ornate gourds with silver straws.
The economic fallout has been significant. Newspapers report fewer shoppers on the streets, restaurants are less crowded and tourists, particularly those from Brazil, are staying away.
The only good word about the worldwide flu epidemic is that pharmaceutical manufacturers are preparing supplies of vaccines that should be ready in two months. Until then, vote by absentee ballot and stay three feet away from everyone — or, at least, postpone any thoughts of visiting your soulmate in Argentina until the disease runs its course a bit.
– Peter Eisner