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The Daily Record (London)
AS Britain reels from the worst outbreak of influenza in more than a
Influenza - flu to most of us - is the Toblerone-shaped bug that kills
In November, the early cases came creeping into Britain's surgeries.
But as invisible as the bug itself, figures started to grow. Doctors
noted the increase in influenza
Dr Aberdeen wasn't to know that Dr Ayr was experiencing the same 20
per cent increase in flu
Well, not until it was too late.
Hospitals were first to ring the alarm bells - registrars became anxious
as the number of beds being
And there were some deaths that made their figures look a little uncomfortable.
Regional medical officers got the information on their desks at the
end of the month, but few read the
Others weren't experienced enough to understand them, but someone did
- a researcher, a
"What's an epidemic here in England?" he asked.
"Four cases per every thousand of the population," he was told.
"Guys, we just got ourselves a flu epidemic."
Newspapers were slow to pick up on the story - until the death of a fit young rugby player.
Until now, hardened editors felt flu was something that picked off the
weak, those that were in God's
Calls to the health department rang alarms bells and the Health Minister
was finally cornered in the
"It's an epidemic, but not a serious one," he told MPs.
Leader of the Opposition, Michael Portillo, replied with headline- grabbing gravity.
"Tell that to the families of the victims. There are people dying out
there. Have we learned nothing
It was all too late. Hospitals began to sag under the volume of referrals from GPs.
Practices that lost 300 patients a year were now seeing 10 people every
day develop life-threatening
No-one was immune. A famous actor died. Then a senior member of the Royal Family.
The nation mourned as news of the McAndrew family from Aberdeen arrived on their screens.
Mrs Susan McAndrew had gone to hospital with her sons Ian, three, and
Callum, five, at noon. She
A Highland primary school of just six pupils was left with just one
little boy. Pictures of him sitting
Kirks and chapels buried the dead - and asked their congregations to pray for a cure.
Researchers had found the bug, but were helpless against this superflu
strain. Its roots were traced to
Locals had called it Yeltsin flu, after the late former Russian leader.
Its virulence was the speed at which it travelled - and killed.
One man sneezing on a Jumbo jet could infect 300 passengers. If any
of them sneezed in a train,
The Government was forced to declare a national emergency - but were
hammered for deciding a
People were dying in their thousands from Yeltsin Flu. And that was
only the UK. The Euro
"It's not an epidemic - it's a plague," said one newspaper's front page.
"It's the Aids of the innocents," screamed another.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to announce a total shutdown
of all but essential
"People are catching this bug in schools, in factories, in shops and
offices. This Government has no
It was a gamble. With the threat of food shortages, people would hoard
or even loot if they had
"I regret to announce a 24-hour curfew in mainland UK," he added.
"Essential services - hospital staff, doctors, the police, this House,
certain government agencies and
He sat down at the despatch box, tears in his eyes. Michael Portillo
broke with Commons etiquette
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond immediately announced the Scots
would follow suit. Ireland,
For six days, most of the planet didn't stir. Fathers played games with
their children. With power
Mothers were forced to look out recipes from books their grand- mothers
had left them. History
There was tragedy, too. A farmer watched his wife slip away in front
of him. He kissed her farewell
The Army and police maintained supplies to the elderly. And had the
job of retrieving bodies from
One Ayrshire fireman was offered compassionate leave after moving the
bodies of his brother,
He refused and later became one of 356 Scots to be honoured for services during the flu scourge.
Doctors still argue over how the bug disappeared as quickly as it came.
Some claim the coldest January for 200 years helped kill the spores
in the air. Others maintained that
Spanish Flu claimed 150,000 UK lives in 1918. Asian Flu killed 30,000
in 1958 and Hong Kong
Gordon Brown rose to tell the Commons in March that the UK's final loss
from the 2006 Yeltsin flu
"We cannot let this happen again," he pledged.