Clem’s Chronicles: Swine Flu/GM/Air Farce One

By Clem Lane

Apr 27, 2009 10:17pm

Howdy-Clem Lane here. Lots and lots of swine flu-related stuff. Please peruse our web site for lots more information. Here’s a couple of things noteworthy.

SWINE FLU/PANDEMIC LEVEL RAISED-The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic phase level to 4. What does that mean? WHO says the phase four alert means sustained human to human transmission causing outbreaks in at least one country.  It signals a significant increase in the risk of a global epidemic, but doesn’t mean a pandemic is inevitable.

SWINE FLU/TRAVEL WARNING-The State Department issued a travel alert for Mexico due to the swine flu outbreak. It read in part: “The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the health risks of travel to Mexico at this time due to an outbreak of H1N1 ‘swine flu.’  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an April 27 notice recommending that American citizens avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico at this time.  CDC’s notice also suggests precautions that travelers and U.S. citizen residents in Mexico can take to reduce their risk of infection while in Mexico." Kirit Radia sent the State Department notice to the Foreign and Medical DL’s if you’d like to read more.

SWINE FLU/UNITED STATES: Here in the United States, there are 45 confirmed cases of swine flu; 28 in New York City, 11 in California, 2 in Kansas, 1 in Ohio and 3 in Texas.  There have been no deaths and all of the cases have been mild, but health officials are warning Americans to take precautionary steps to help avoid spreading the disease. As John McKenzie reported on WORLD NEWS: “To slow the spread of the virus, the government today asked Americans to avoid any non-essential travel to Mexico, the epicenter of this epidemic.  This came hours after the European Health Commissioner urged Europeans to avoid not only Mexico, but parts of the US hit by the virus.”  In addition to non-essential travel, health officials encourage the public to practice good hygiene (cover that cough!).  The government has started sending out 12 million doses of anti-viral medication to states affected by the virus.  (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)

SWINE FLU/BORDER CROSSINGS AND AIRPORTS-David Muir noted on WORLD NEWS tonight that “border crossings and airports are the new frontlines in the battle to halt this flu.” Let’s talk air travel first-Muir reports that “there are close to 600 flights between the US and Mexico every day.” Travelers are changing their plans-Muir says that “US Airways, American Airlines and Delta all report cancellations. The airlines are waiving fees.” Border crossings-Lisa Fletcher was down at the San Ysidro border crossing in California-she filed a report within the Muir WORLD NEWS package which said in part “Customs agents are looking for people who might be sick, pulling them out of the crowd and taking them to a secondary holding facility for evaluation. About 80 thousand people come through San Ysidro every day.” And it’s not just US officials taking precautions. Lama Hasan reported within Muir’s piece from Beijing where airport authorities are “using technology that measures a passenger’s body heat…..anyone displaying signs of a fever will then be checked by officers and could be quarantined.”

SWINE FLU/MEXICO-Terry McCarthy reported tonight from Mexico City, a Mexico City “filled with empty streets, closed schools and 20 million people hiding behind masks in fear.” Mexican health officials have apparently found the so-called “ground zero”-McCarthy: “Officials…believe the swine flu outbreak began in a small community next to a large pig farm in the southeastern state of Veracruz.” The big question-why are people dying in Mexico and nowhere else? McCarthy: “experts say some poorer people here might be delaying treatment, which could have some deadly consequences. Another theory, the virus itself might be mutating and getting less virulent as it moves from Mexico to the US.”

SWINE FLU/OUR EXPERTS-Charles Gibson had a three-way conversation with Dr. Tim Johnson and ABC NEWS contributor and former CDC head Dr. Julie Gerberding on WORLD NEWS. Some highlights: on the importance of the so-called “ground zero” Dr. Gerberding told Gibson that it was “critically important. We need to understand the source of the virus so that we can make predictions about its biological behavior.” On what to expect-will it get worse or will it get better? Dr. Tim Johnson: “The virus can mutate and get more serious or be more mild. It’s that unpredictable. We have no idea what is going to happen over the next weeks or months.” Gibson noted that the virus is responsive to some drugs so why be worried? Dr. Tim: “These drugs do not kill the virus. They help prevent replication and reduce the symptoms. But they have to be taken within the first 48 hours.”

GENERAL MOTORS-More pain announced by General Motors today. Eric Horng, filing for WORLD NEWS, notes that “GM’s plan accelerates and deepens previously-announced cuts, slashing the number of factories and jobs by one third.” They’ll be jettisoning brands-Saab, Hummer and Saturn are gone this year, and Pontiac next leaving GM with four core brands (Chevy/Cadillac/Buick/GMC). Horng also reports that “(GM) will also shed nearly half its dealers and even those selling surviving brands are not guaranteed to stay open.” Worse, Horng adds that “cuts alone won’t stay off bankruptcy so the automaker is giving its bondholders, union and the government an ultimatum…it’s offering stock in exchange for retiring debt, a deal that could save the company billions.” And even that move if successful may not be enough. As Horng noted in his close “A smaller GM or no GM…a painful choice with no guarantees.”

AIR FORCE ONE PHOTO SHOOT CAUSES PANIC:  The White House military office has apologized for authorizing a photo shoot of a low-flying Air Force One that sparked panic in New York City this morning. Around 10am ET today people reported sightings of a 747 and a fighter jet flying low around the Statue of Liberty and World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. That 747 was one of the planes used as Air Force One, and the fighter jet carried a photographer taking pictures of the jet as it flew over Lady Liberty.  The scene, reminiscent of 9-11, caused a panic in lower Manhattan that resulted in people self-evacuating buildings and calling police, and left city officials scrambling to calm fears – something that could have been avoided if officials had notified the public of the exercise.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg was not even aware of the photo-op; the mayor said he was “furious” that he was not notified of the fly-over, which he called “insensitive” and “ill-conceived.”  The FAA reportedly sent the fly-over information to New York City Hall and several New York and New Jersey police agencies last week, but Mayor Bloomberg was not notified by his office.  The FAA told local agencies that the information was classified and not to be publicized. A City Hall employee has been disciplined for failing to pass the message on to the mayor. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
GERMAN AUTOMAKER DAIMLER has cut its’ remaining ties to Chrysler. Daimler has kept a 20% stake in Chrysler when it sold the company to private equity firm Cerberus. Charlie Herman reports that “as part of the deal, Daimler will forgive two loans totally $1.9 billion that Chrysler was to have paid back.  In addition, Daimler will pay a total of $600 million into Chrysler’s pension plan over the next three years.  Daimler had previous agreed to pay $1 billion to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation which insures pension plans if that agency ever had to take over Chrysler’s pension plan.  That amount has been reduced to $200 million and will in effect until 2012.”

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