Fareed Zakaria at PostGlobal

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. He is a member of the roundtable of ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanapoulos" as well as an analyst for ABC News. And he is the host of a new weekly PBS show, "Foreign Exchange" which focuses on international affairs. His most recent book, "The Future of Freedom," was published in the spring of 2003 and was a New York Times bestseller and is being translated into eighteen languages. He is also the author of "From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role" (Princeton University Press), and co-editor of "The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World" (Basic Books). Close.

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. more »

Main Page | Fareed Zakaria Archives | PostGlobal Archives

The Sky Isn't Falling

It certainly looks like another example of crying wolf. Three weeks ago the World Health Organization declared a health emergency, warning countries to "prepare for a pandemic," and said the only question was the extent of worldwide damage. Senior officials prophesied that millions could be infected by the disease. But as of last week, the WHO had confirmed only 4,800 cases of swine flu, with 61 fatalities. Obviously, these low numbers are a pleasant surprise, yet one has to wonder: What did we get wrong?

Why did the predictions of a pandemic turn out to be so exaggerated? Some people blame an overheated media, but it would have been difficult to ignore major international health organizations and governments when they warned of catastrophe. I think there is a broader mistake in the way we see the world. Once we spot a problem, we can describe it in great detail, extrapolating all possible consequences. But rarely can we anticipate the human response to that crisis.

Take swine flu. The virus had crucial characteristics that led researchers to worry that it could spread far and fast. They described -- and the media reported -- what would happen if it went unchecked. But it did not go unchecked. In fact, swine flu was met by a vigorous response at its epicenter. The Mexican government reacted quickly and massively, quarantining the infected population, testing others, providing medication to those in need. The noted expert on this subject, Laurie Garrett, says, "We should all stand up and scream, 'Gracias, Mexico!' because the Mexican people and the Mexican government have sacrificed on a level that I'm not sure as Americans we would be prepared to do in the exact same circumstances. They shut down their schools. They shut down businesses, restaurants, churches, sporting events. They basically paralyzed their own economy. They've suffered billions of dollars in financial losses still being tallied up, and thereby really brought transmission to a halt.Ö "

Every time one of these viruses is detected, writers and officials bring up the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 in which millions of people died. Indeed, during the last pandemic scare, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2005, President George W. Bush claimed that he had been reading a history of the Spanish flu to help him understand how to respond. But the world today looks nothing like it did in 1918. Public health-care systems are far better and more widespread than anything that existed during World War I. Even Mexico, a developing country, has a first-rate public-health system -- far better than anything Britain or France had in the early 20th century.

One can see this same pattern of mistakes in discussions of the global economic crisis. Over the past six months, the doomsday industry has moved into high gear. Economists and business pundits are competing with each other to describe the next Great Depression. But the world we live in bears little resemblance to the 1930s era. There is much greater and more widespread wealth in Western societies, with middle classes that can withstand job losses in ways they could not in the 1930s. Bear in mind, unemployment in the non-farm sector in America rose to 37 percent in the 1930s. Unemployment in the United States today is 8.9 percentÖ . And government benefits -- nonexistent in the '30s -- play a vast role in cushioning the blow from an economic slowdown.

The biggest difference between the 1930s and today, however, lies in the human response. Governments worldwide have reacted with amazing speed and scale, lowering interest rates, recapitalizing banks and budgeting for large government expenditures. In total, all the various fiscal-stimulus packages amount to something in the range of $2 trillion. Central banks -- mainly the Federal Reserve -- have pumped much larger amounts of cash into the economy. While we debate the intricacies of every move -- is the TALF well structured? -- the basic reality is that governments have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this problem and, taking into account the inevitable time lag, their actions are already taking effect. That does not mean a painless recovery or a return to robust growth. But it does mean that we should retire the analogies to the Depression, when policymakers -- especially central banks -- did many things wrong.

We live in a dangerous world. But it is also a world in which deep, structural forces create stability. We have learned from history and built some reasonably effective mechanisms to handle crises. Does that mean we shouldn't panic? Yes, except that it is the sense of urgency that makes people act -- even overreact -- and ensures that a crisis doesn't mutate into a disaster. Here's the paradox: If policymakers hadn't been scared of another Great Depression, there might well have been one.

The writer is editor of Newsweek International and co-host of PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

Comments (50)

iambiguously Author Profile Page:

Also from WHO:

Every 24 hours on planet earth nearly 20,000 children aged 5 years and younger will die from starvation. Every single day. Over 6,500,000 each year.

Why is this not at the top of every world leader's agenda?

How can leaders of the G7 nations talk about being part of the "civilized world", yet do nothing systemically to stop this stain on the human species?


seawolfR Author Profile Page:

90 people get the Swine Flu and everybody wants to wear a mask.
A million people have AIDS and no one wants to wear a condom.

ARutledge Author Profile Page:

The breakout and mortality statistics Mr. Zakaria has quoted should not be taken to imply a 1.25% mortality rate. During SARS (which was in 2003, not 2005), some officials in HK and the WHO made the mistake of dividing cumulative deaths over the current rate of infection to arrive at a 4% mortality rate; however, counting the number of deaths in any given cohort of SARS patients yielded a much more representative, 10% mortality rate. By this same logic, current estimates of the death from swine flu would be more like 5%.

JuliusMoss Author Profile Page:

How about blaming newsweek itself, for publishing a screaming cover story by serial alarmist Laurie Garrett?

jewishmother Author Profile Page:

THIS ZAKARIA DUDE IS TOTALLY IRRELEVANT. He just crept up from under a rock, and discussing a settled matter: Swine flu is not news, and is on its way out of our lives, and he's overhere being all phylosophical and all.

Citizenofthepost-Americanworld Author Profile Page:

I believe robertmartinsh is right: "the health organizations... were encouraging preparedness but not panic." Recent events in times of world crisis have clearly shown that prevention and preparedness still leave a lot to be desired.

I am reminded of that clever man who once argued, in that large multinational, that given expenses had to be reduced, we should dispense with a good number of corporate lawyers, given that during all those years, there had never been a single court case against the company. -- A junior lawyer smiled, thanked the luminary most sincerely for the compliment and soon he was off, attending to more important (legal?) matters...

To repeat, and add to what DupontJay has stated, "When it comes to forecasting and mitigating a pandemic, I'll continue to value the conclusions of the world's leading epidemiologists over the intuitions of untrained laymen"...and the advice of all those who hold their economic and financial interests in higher esteem than public health.

rsg1 Author Profile Page:

Yes, swine flu could mutate into a much worse strain - which happens to also be true of all pathogens in existence, including all other flu strains in existence. The hard facts are that it is a rare, curable illness (and yes, that has a lot to do with modern medicine, let's not romanticise the past); the number of dead is insignificant compared to the number of dead from ordinary seasonal flu in the US, let alone the dead from AIDS in Africa.

The claim that Mexico has a first rate public health system is laughable; that even in Mexico the overwhelming majority of patients recover shows how the response to swine flu has been nothing other than hysteria; there was uncertainty in the early stages, but such panic can no longer be justified. If this is a pandemic, so is the common cold. Yes, Spanish flu became more deadly; there are plenty of other strains that didn't, and there are plenty of treatments available now that weren't available then, just as antibiotics weren't available during the Black Death.

It has not been a harmless hysteria, because it has shifted resources away from other illnesses, threats, problems, etc. Already in the sorry affair that is the Mexican public health system people were dying of curable illnesses (I quote: 'People in the Mayan villages have always been dying of curable diseases, I don't know why the authorities now pretend to care.'); with the massive shift in resources as a result of this hysteria, even more people are no doubt going without life-saving treatment - and I personally know people in Mexico that have been denied medical care because of the focus on swine flu. For WHO bureaucrats and the Western media the hysteria may be a mere inconvenience (or even a profitable opportunity), but for others it means the loss of their livelihoods or going without necessary medical treatment. So no, it hasn't been a case of 'better safe than sorry' - it has been a case of unwarranted hysteria that the West can afford to indulge in, but Mexico cannot.

NedHamson Author Profile Page:

One way to get noticed is to travel upstream, go against the wave of opinion and news. Trouble is you are a day late and more than a dollar short. You should have written this a week or so ago when other nay-sayers were getting in line to be first to accuse people of shouting wolf or whatever.

All you end up doing, along with them is to string a few lame facts together, come in second best and help to convince the already jaded public that everyone in government or the press lies, is stupid, or is only out for a quick buck, invitations to speak, and looking good. And if you actually do yourself and the public a disservice - well who cares, no one will check up on you.

But there are some - me included - who will decide forget you - just another wannabe expert on blowing smoke to make himself look like a forest fire.

frodot Author Profile Page:

Silly article. It's like forecasting a ball game result after the fact. In this instance, the aftercast may be premature. Who knows what inning we're in with swine flu? And who knows what would have happened without widespread publicity of the potential danger of swine flu? Some of these sanctimonious aftercasters might be dead.

albertine_doibo Author Profile Page:

Good day Fareed
I am begining to think that your article is a bit premature, because it does not appear as if the scare is over yet.
what is happening in China cannot be described to mean over reacting and the new cases springing out of NYC in America as well.
Maybe you should really rethink your position/comments on the WHO efforts and give the media some credit well.

DupontJay Author Profile Page:

Here's a truism well understood by scientists, but perhaps less well appreciated by political pundits commenting on scientific issues: our intuition is COMPLETELY unreliable in those arenas far removed from our daily experience.

If you make a "common sense" guess about how to extinguish a potassium fire, how to change a satellite's orbit, or how to assess a new virus' risk, you will most likely come up with something that "makes sense" to you, and that is utterly wrong.

When it comes to forecasting and mitigating a pandemic, I'll continue to value the conclusions of the world's leading epidemiologists over the intuitions of untrained laymen.

robertmartinsh Author Profile Page:

Mr. Zakaria,

You stated in your article, "but it would have been difficult to ignore major international health organizations and governments when they warned of catastrophe". Actually I did not hear the health organizations warn of catastrophe. They were encouraging preparedness but not panic. It was the news media in their words and tone that implied "catastrophe". While WHO is getting better, they are public health professionals who are not really highly skilled at communicating with the media. When they say "pandemic" they mean any new disease, regardless of severity that spreads easily in at least two geographic areas, and nothing more. When the media, or most lay people, hear the word "pandemic", they equate it with words like "catastrophie" or "holocaust".

thomaswfuller Author Profile Page:

Dear Mr. Zakaria,

Your logic is compelling. I wish you would use the same rules of logic to discuss the hysteria regarding global warming.

momshugs Author Profile Page:

Mr. Zakaria ~

I hope you address these comments in a few more articles on the "Sky is Falling" subject. MIKE-SEY said it best that TV anchors need to drop their hype & take 'Cronkite' lessens.

GUY-HARDROCK got the point about necessary human intervention in global emergencies keeps the sky from falling. Think of it as defensive driving. In this case, Mexico braked hard & held its economy steady which kept others from crashing. The cost will likely bring their health system under scrutiny as noted by DENICEDRESSER.

Please follow up comments about virus mutation as it travels through different species & countries. People read your articles for an international perspective on issues affect global financial and health care systems. To stay alert for a mutated virus to return, accurate information is needed to prevent it from spreading, not hyperbole.

Thank you. Moms Hugs aka Eve

Jane27 Author Profile Page:

You're right, the world today is nothing like it was in 1918. Back then travelers took trains and ships (not airplanes, and there are many more people traveling now, therefore faster spread of disease); many families lived in rural areas (now more live in crowded cities and don't have gardens therefore food must be purchased); then families ate at home, mostly food that they had in their pantries or gardens (now many families eat out or pick up fast food and don't have much food stored at home); then cities had some of their food supplied from nearby farms (now that farmland has been paved over and much of our food is shipped long distances, therefore we're dependent on Just-in-Time shipping all along the supply chain); then most houses were not reliant on electricity for their heating (now we rely on our power system to supply heat, light, elevators and water in high-rise apartment buildings, refrigeration for our food, air conditioning, and many medical devices).

On the issue of medical care, there is little surge capacity in our hospitals. In a wide-spread emergency, it won't matter how advanced our medical knowledge is if you won't be seen and treated because the system is overloaded. Ask any ambulance service how often in a week they are told that the closest hospital is on "bypass" and will not receive their patient.

wbpjr Author Profile Page:

Thanks for a great article - and apologies for the likes of bluelagoon and ybolds, who obviously did not read the article. We are not out of the woods yet with the swine flu, but I always wonder why we allow the media to whip us into a frenzy over the flu. It is an annual event, and it spreads like wildfire no matter what we do. Some are worse than others, but it's not Ebola - that is something we should get overheated about. As long as there has been human history, each generation feels like it's world is more dangerous than the last generations. The truth is, life goes on, and we humans are amazingly adaptive to new threats - the sky is not falling, but we'll be ready if it does.

bluelagoon21 Author Profile Page:

Please shut up Zakarias. It is very easy to criticize after the fact. In reality what America did after the flu out brake in Mexico was very minimal if nothing while other counties like japan were taking much more preventive measures.But if the flue had killed many Americans for sure people like you would be blaming the administration. You people in the media are no more than a shameless opportunists uninterested in the nation's welfare.

yeolds Author Profile Page:

Mr. Zakaria:

You should wait at least another 6-12 months before you pontificate as to the damage brought about by the Masters of The Universe [a.k.a Wall Street] and the neo-con/conservative cohort's total lack of understanding that the resources of Earth are FINITE [as opposed to the infinite amount of toxic waste, by Wall Street, or the amount $ the Feds can print].

Were you intersted in realistic prognistications, you would read up on resource availability in the the future, from oil/gas to rare earth metals, from common goods as copper and lead to all others - then you can base your notions on REALITY.

Wether you and the rest of the power elite, be in USa or otherwise, like it or not 2006 was the apex of standard of living for USA,l and probably for all developed countries. Marthus' theory is applicable to 6.5 billion people [and growing] - while it was not appliucable to the early years of Industrial Revolution, when cheap energy source seemed unlimited. Cheap energy is the cornerstone of today's economy, and it is coming to an end.

zcezcest1 Author Profile Page:

The author, who I have great respect for, misses on this. We have all seen cases where we have overestimated the risks, and little happened as a result. We have been (and still are) faced with a poorly understood strain of influenza, capable of evolving from what appears to a be a modest problem into a severe one. The challenge of understanding risk in a transmittable disease is considerable. The consequences of getting it wrong, potentially enormous. Sometimes, it pays to prevent a crisis. You have thought that the current financial crisis would have driven that point home.

cgillard Author Profile Page:

The perfect opportunity to contemplate the necessity of a good compehensive national healthcare system that actually cares for people and tries to cover rather than evade coverage of sicknesses that can affect the health of the entire nation and the world.
A good time to think about the wisdom of exporting food and animal processing to less regulated realms just across the border. To think about how the entire world's health and welfare is interdependent and much more important than a fat profit for a few!

hyperlexis Author Profile Page:

Rubbish article! I have neve seen such an irresponsible, shallow analysis of a topic of this potential severity.

Mr. Zakaria, we were again only LUCKY this time. The saving grace was that this virus, in only its first phase of infections mind you, has not shown the same genetic make up as the more virulent, deadly 1918 strain. Public health systems has nothing to do with it, unless the fact we have computers at the CDC somehow prevents a novel flu virus from mutating into a killer. I don't think the virus much cares.

Mr. Zakaria, if this was the same deadly type of virus as 1918, all the computers or Purell in the world wouldn't save people from the biological result wrought by the virus. And we only have enough antiviral medications for a fraction of the US's and world's populations.

Count your blessings Mr. Zakaria. This was not crying worlf. And in 1918, the virus hit twice -- in the spring, with mild cases. Then in the fall after the virus had mutated -- to the deadly strain that quiclkly killed 600,000 young, healthy Americans (enormous for our smaller population in 1918) and tens of millions around the world.

See you in the fall Mr. Zakaria.

TheTraveler Author Profile Page:

Flu season isn't here yet. The real pandemic in the world is short term thinking. The alarm sounds and we'll all think of possible or probable consequences later. In the meantime, let's live it up. If there's a flu pandemic, or an economic depression or no water, who cares? Let's live for today and bash the nasty pessimists who tell us something bad is going to happen. They keep spoiling our party. Let's see where we are 4 months or a year from now. That should be a better time frame for reflection and judgement.

mpfrang Author Profile Page:

I'm someone who worked in public health for 35+ years, including in infectious diseases, and quit my job at the time in 1976 rather than work in that swine flu program, which was widely believed even within the profession to be a manufactured crisis. What is currently known about the current virus is that it appears to be somewhat more infectious but no more virulent than the seasonal strains of flu virus that we've had in recent years. There's a possibility that the virus may mutate into a more dangerous stage, but there's also the possibility that we may see the reemergence of SARS, or a more dangerous pandemic strain of AIDS or TB or MRSA or one of literally hundreds if not thousands of different pathogens, but the probability that none of those things will happen. My former colleagues in public health are all good people and dedicated professionals,but they don't see the problem when schools are closed and poor working parents with no leave are forced to stay home with their kids, or when businesses are closed and people with no savings have to try to survive for weeks or months with no income, or the effects on an already weakened economy and government budgets when our political leaders appropriate billions of dollars that they don't have and put them down on a bet on the come. We all know that around 36,000 people will die from the virus in a normal flu year. but what we're never told is that almost all of those are the very elderly or very sick who are probably going to die of something very soon anyway, and for many of whom a quick bout of influenza and pneumonia is an act of merciful release from an existence of medically prolonged agony.

JohnnyJunk Author Profile Page:

Shocking ... the media is now covering it's own behind. The best part about Mr. Zakaria's post is the truly masterful way in which he transforms what should be a subject of criticism into a subject of praise for the media. No doubt, the media is included in the list of "forces that create stability."

upthehill Author Profile Page:

Please write another column 6 months from now and we'll see where we're at. It's too premature to judge right now.
PS- I enjoy your commentary here and on Bill Maher! Thanks!

run240 Author Profile Page:

Nothing wrong, except your understanding:

Pandemic: An epidemic (a sudden outbreak) that becomes very widespread and affects a whole region, a continent, or the world

It doesn't say everyone has to die. It doesn't say millions or billions. Just a simple definition.

infrederick Author Profile Page:

The answer is that nothing was "gotten wrong". You however have misunderstood the scientific information and the situation and misread the history and the public health response. Your conclusion that this is a false alarm is entirely premature. It is also premature to reach any conclusion as to the severity, i.e. virulence, of this emergent pandemic. Right now the new strain is still in its very early stage of global spread and while per WHO it is possible to hope it will not become a pandemic, that is not likely according to the WHO and CDC experts. It is more likely that next fall the 2009 H1N1A strain will flare up as a pandemic and we do not yet know if it will be as a severe or as a mild illness.

xtrump42 Author Profile Page:

Heck, I think Joe Biden should get some of the credit for stopping this H1N1 in its tracks. After all, he ignored both science AND common sense to advise folks to stay off the subway.

lufrank1 Author Profile Page:

Sorry to disagree. The sky IS falling - - -for one basic reason.... Exponential Growth of the Human Population.
War, famine, energy & water shortages, rape of forests, strip mining, immigration problems, global warming, etc.
all due to the slithering snake of excess reproduction . . . The Population Bomb.

dnjake Author Profile Page:

As far as the swine flue goes, the answer is just a question of luck. In fact, those with credentials always said that the prospects were uncertain.

As far as the economic issues go, Fareed Zakaria is an excellent example of the trend that he is presumably criticizing. That is people who make a living off stiring up trouble and controversey. In fact, there were many more people with overly optimistic economic expectations prior to last September than there have been those that made doomsday prognostications. Second, we probably made it through a major liquidity crisis without a complete collapse of the financial system because of major government intervention in that system that has essentially put it on life support. Third, we are still in the middle of major economic problems with very uncertain expectations for returning to the economic conditions experienced in 2006.

Guy-Hardrock Author Profile Page:

Guys, it's clear that most of your failed to read - or at least failed to understand - the point of the article...

It's not about the WHO, or the media, or whether there was too much (or too little) fear and panic spread by these groups.

The point is that the ACTIONS that HUMAN BEINGS take CAN have positive consequences - a dangerous flu strain might NOT spread out of control if we do the right things to contain it... which we have.

Likewise, the global economy might NOT melt completely down if citizens, business, and government likewise do the right things... which we are attempting to do, all across the globe...

I enjoy the passionate debate, but almost 100% of you seem to have missed the point of this very good and thoughtful article...

knjincvc Author Profile Page:

"What did we get wrong"

What was not factored in was the "FEAR FACTOR".

Over the past thirty years Americans, especially, have become more fearful of just about everything.

MouthSore Author Profile Page:

Just one word: YET

joyousjam1 Author Profile Page:

The initial reports of the numbers of deaths believed to be caused by the new variant virus seem to have been the trigger for the virtual 'panic' that ensued. It seems essential for governments/health authorities to get confirmation of the truth of such reports before the media can run with them. Some of the headlines even from usually responsible media were highly alarmist. I found myself shouting at my TV for the news channels to tell me how many had actually died from this virus; that was the vital failure of information.

knjincvc Author Profile Page:

What went wrong???

Xenophobic right wing talk radio turned the flu into a full fledged hate rant!!

nacllcan Author Profile Page:

The sky is not falling, but it may yet. Fareed Zakaria forgets, or does not realize, that the ferocious flu pandemic of 90 years ago also started out with a mild summer outbreak. But it came back in the winter after the virus had mutated into a far more ferocious strain against which few had immunity.

This may happen again. There are indications that the virus has gone south. Chile has just reported two cases. They are heading into winter down there. Whatever the swine influence learns down there may well come back after this summer to teach us its nasty new tricks.

Virologists are on the lookout for that and will try to produce a vaccine able to cope with it. Let's hope they'll succeed. But it is far too early to say, we are out of the woods. The sky may yet give us a serious drubbing.

That, incidentally also goes for the economy. Whatever blue skies are discernible, a blizzard may yet zoom in and bury us up to our noses. The 1929 depression too did not show its its real depth until 1932. And in our case we have unprecedented debts and the threat of hyper inflation are on the horizon. Not right now, but in time. When you print so much money and pretend it has value, that too is a bubble which at some point will burst.

Vacation4243 Author Profile Page:

Actually this column will be one you may long remember. It is not that it is wrong because the "news" was overhyped and that was a problem. Why was it overhyped? First there is a fundamental distinction between "Public Affairs" and "Emergency Public Information!" Obama mistakenly giving DHS the lead meant that the Secretary DHS and its Public Affairs operation was the dominant source for "New" in the early timeframe in the US. It should have been as planned under the National Strategy for Pandemic Flu the HHS Secretary or the Acting Secretary, who did in fact issue the declaration of a "Public Health Emergency" which was authorized for the first time in a 2002 statute called the "Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act" so something close to that and that became law in May 2002. If you had read the CDC releases which were in fact "Emergency Public Information" rather than "Public Affairs" and if the rest of the media had also, and if you understood that the WHO Pandemic levels DON"T deal with the virulence of the virus but the spread you might have done better with this article. Again hope you spend some time learning the vast difference between the government "couter-propaganda" efforts knows as "Public Affairs" and the highly technical discipline known as "Emergency Public Informations" which includes the issuances of PARs (Protective Action Recommendations) to the Public. Of course since Obama got it wrong, and Janet N. got it wrong how could I blame someone as smart as you for not knowing. And the H-95 masks are to protect the patients not the medical profession. Good luck in learning more about this as WHO goes this week to LEVEL 6!

robertwf Author Profile Page:

Mr. Zakaria I am ashamed at you. If the WHO had not done as much as they did you would have berated them for not doing enough. You are being an armchair quarterback. What would you have done if you had been head of WHO. Telling people what you would NOT have done is not good enough. The WHO erred on the side of caution. I applaud them for that and so should you

biggerjake Author Profile Page:

OK. Let's try this one more time. I am suffering from premature e-clickulation.......

From what I have read, this had (and maybe still has) the potential to be the next pandemic. It seems like there are an almost infinite number of variables that could tip the scales one way or the other. Will it mutate into H2N1? If it does, what cross-section of the population has antibodies for that? And then of course there is H1N2 and H2N2.

johnj702 Author Profile Page:

Why don't you ask the wife of the New York City Asst. Principal, who died from it. She thinks that NYC didn't act fast enough.

biggerjake Author Profile Page:

Sorry, the second paragraph should have read:

From what I have read, this had (and maybe still has) the potential to be the next pandemic. It seems like there are an almost infinite number of variables that could tip the scales one way or the other. Will it mutate into H2M1? If it does, what cross-section of the population has antibodies for that? And then of course there is H1M2 and H2M2.

biggerjake Author Profile Page:

It would seem to me that given the number of things that were unknown and unknowable at the time, “we” (although I don’t know why I include myself because I basically did nothing) didn’t get anything wrong.

From what I have read, this had (and maybe still has) the potential to be the next pandemic. It seems like there are an almost infinite number of variables that could tip the scales one way or the other. Will it mutate into N2M1? If it does, what cross-section of the population has antibodies for that? And then of course there is N1M2 and N2M2.

I also don’t think we have learned everything that there is to learn about this virus. Usually as time goes by and more information comes in from tests and surveys, researchers are able to add to their understanding of how these things work. I think that if this was an overreaction, it was a good one.

An “over reactive response” to Katrina might have made things come out much differently for New Orleans. I think we should plan and budget for worst case scenarios. Maybe we should even do a post mortem on this incident to see how we could measure our response and still be ready for the worst. If we are going to make a mistake, let’s make it on the good side for a change.

I don’t think the response to the financial crisis has been an over-reaction, which I guess is Fareed Zakaria’s point. If we don’t call it a crisis, not enough is done to fix it and we don’t learn anything from it.

I guess maybe it is part of human nature these days.

One thing this has made clear; more money needs to be spent on anti-viral research. This may not have been the next pandemic, but it may have been a dress rehearsal for the inevitable real thing.

jlhernan Author Profile Page:

One mexican custom Denise Dresser forgot to mention is that we never go to the doctor for a flu. With the A H1N1 were unwarned, that was the main cause of the number of early deads.

mike-sey Author Profile Page:

It seems to the only people who went wrong here were the media - particularly television media.

The authorities, particularly health authorities, reported the facts as they knew them, took sensible precautions swiftly, gave sensible advice and adapted as they knew more.

There was nothing wrong with the message or the spokespersons. There was with messenger who filled the airwaves with breathless commentary every second of the day. Even when reporting the facts and nothing but the facts, media anchors distorted the message not only with the sheer volume of coverage but with their tone, body language, and speculation as to the horrors that could develop.

As a former journalist I suggest that the media look back at the old-style Walter Crokite and war time BBC coverage for a model when the story took precedence over face-time, and news desk chitter-chatter and gossip was minimal.

albertine_doibo Author Profile Page:

Dear Fareed
this no doubt has made interesting read and the sky obviously is not falling.
the call for moderation from all players in this fiasco cannot be overemphaisizes .
The media on one part and the WHO on the other hand however without having to throw the away the baby with the bath water.
Let us look at the good sides of this alarm that was raised.
Should things happened differently and the WHO did not raise the make all these pronunciations,just maybe these same critics may have question where was the WHO and what are they doing or what did they do.
Again before we crucify the media for blowing the whole situation out of proportion, let us thank them for alerting of of a disease that had the potential of becoming an epidemic.
this alert made governments and nations,raise up to the situation in good time before the disease could have time to spread.
As much as it appears as if the WHO had cried wolf where it appears there was none.
One can certainly say that if these cries sis not go out the FLU and its perceived dynamics had the potential to be a wild wolf if it was not properly checked in the intensity with which it was handled.
thanks to all the actors, i do not believe you did that bad.
An particularly to mexico for all the sacrifice, very few nations will agree to subject itself such.

denisedresser Author Profile Page:

Dear Mr. Zacharia,

Your article chastises commentators for "getting it wrong" when they compare current economic woes to the Great Depression. Unfortunately the same thing has happened in your case regarding your assessment of Mexico's response. As a Mexican citizen, university professor, and columnist for Reforma newspaper I take issue with your statement that Mexico "has a first-rate public health system". If anything, the flu crisis demonstrated how that in not the case: people died here and not elsewhere precisely because of the flaws of a health system that cannot and does not offer enough coverage, enough medicines, enough doctors, enough research facilities. The government was forced to take such strong steps precisely because it knew that if the flu spread, the health system would be more overwhelmed than it is today. I would urge you to read an excellent piece of reporting published in the Spanish newspaper "El Pais" entitled:"A Health System that Became an Accomplice of the Crisis". The article dissected Mexico's health system and delved into such critical issues as the unregulated market in medicines and the well-known fact that Mexico has a two-tiered system: a system or private hospitals for Mexico's elites and the public health care system for the poor, that too often fails them. Given the emphasis your article places on accuracy, please take this into account. I usually value and applaud your work and therefore was surprised to see you make such an obvious mistake.

GaryEMasters Author Profile Page:

When a person has to have an answer for everything, and the situation is unknown - they ask "what did we do wrong?"


Some things have to be waited on. Everything is not apparent now.

Bowerguy1 Author Profile Page:

Dear Mr Zakaria,

The mistaken conclusion from your article is that our medical technology is so good we don't need to worry about a flu epidemic. That we could not predict the severity of this and other disease outbreaks should lead to the opposite conclusion. If we weren't lucky and this easily transmissible flu was also deadly then we might have seen something kin to 1918. Today we live in a more crowded world with more opportunity for mixing and evolving deadly disease so the appearance of a super deadly flu is not an unlikely threat. That is why medical experts around the world were alarmed when a new flu appeared against which we had no natural immunity. We were lucky this time but there are no guarantees for the future. With a few false alarms and mistaken articles like yours will we be ready and act as Mexico did when a deadly flu arrives? You are a political pundit who is often wrong (e.g. Iraq war), please don't comment on medical and biological issues about which you are poorly informed and offer wrong advice.

olemvik Author Profile Page:

What did we get wrong?

I say it's simple, and you touch on it: we knew next to nothing about the H1N1-strand of flu, but we knew (or thought we knew) that it could kill. Knowing also that flu spreads quickly (normal version), we end up knowing that we may have a disease that kills and spreads easily. So we go for safe rather than sorry.

We did not get it wrong :)

Bixbyte Author Profile Page:

Dear Mr. Zakaria,

A new class Antiviral medication that in my opinion should be tested to treat swine flu sickness quickly:

NOV-205, a second compound acts as a hepatoprotective agent with immunomodulating and antiinflammatory properties. Novelos’ IND for NOV-205 as mono-therapy for chronic hepatitis C has been accepted by the FDA, and a U.S. Phase 1b trial in patients who previously failed treatment with pegylated interferon plus ribavirin was concluded based on favorable safety profile. Russian clinical studies in hepatitis B and C patients showed that after relatively short treatment periods (1 to 2 months) with NOV-205, viral load was undetectable in a high proportion of patients and serum biochemical markers of liver damage were significantly decreased.


PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.