Friday, May 22, 2009

THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT'S coverup of a swine flu outbreak is unacceptable not only in itself, but also because it may have endangered more than 100 kids. This level of incompetence is hard to imagine, even in Zapatero's government. And it makes clear they have taken the transparency lessons from Obama...

Here's the story: On Monday, the medical services in one of the main barracks outside Madrid detected some cases of possible swine flu. It was particularly worrying since none of the affected had been in Mexico or other affected areas. Without reporting it to anyone outside the military -- not even the health authorities who have been monitoring the illness since it all started in Mexico --, the army isolated the sick soldiers in one building; they were not even allowed to let their families know what was happening. The next day, some of the results came out positive for H1N1 (sources differ on how many, but they could be up to 11); the infected soldiers were sent to a hospital and about 600 were quarantined. Still silence, until a Spanish online newspaper broke the news almost at midnight on Wednesday.

But the worst thing is that the Health ministry was so intent on raising any red flags that they didn't cancel two field trips by schools, who visited the barracks on Monday and Wednesday. In all, 130 11-and-12-year-olds who were recklessly exposed to the virus, although the army is now saying that they were kept at least 500 yards from the building were the quarantined soldiers were being kept Guantanamo-like. Even if you think that there's at least some alarmism and exaggeration surrounding swine flu you have to admit that this is outrageous. If swine flu is nothing, why hide it and not letting parents decide whether they wanted their kids to go on the field trip. If swine flu is really dangerous, than it's obviously much, much worse.

The uproar in the country today is inmense, and rightly so. Young media-darling Defense minister Carmen Chacón, as any teenager would do, has been in hiding since news broke, relying on others like the deputy prime minister and the health minister -- who as I said she hadn't informed and learned about this when questioned by journalists yesterday -- to give explanations for her. She had already shown her incompetence on the Kosovo pullout, and hadn't been as shy when she was showing off her pregnant tummy; now even leftists as asking her to resign. Stay tuned.

UPDATE. Deputy PM, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, has just confirmed there's 11 tested positive with H1N1, 9 of them still in hospital and 57 under observation.