H5N1, the View from Asia: "When, not if …"

Naysayers ("What, me worry?"), suggesting that much pandemic talk is "alarmism," abound in the United States.

Not so in Southeast Asia.

Arrive Hong Kong from Sydney this morning. Only English-language paper out at 5 a.m. is The Standard, the biggest HK business paper. Page 1, News Section, blaring (no exaggeration) top-of-the-paper headline: "Tough Bird Flu Action Ahead." Among other things, detailed quarantine plans were explained—they are Draconian.

Summarizing the headlines and personal discussions in Taiwan today, I believe the mood/expectation is: "When, not if ..."

Couple that with, among other things, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt's interview in the current Time [get article for a fee—CM], now talking about tens of millions of possible deaths, and, well ...

Personally, I am moving into Full Alarmist Mode. Putting on my analytic hat, I shall assume that there is a 25% chance of a catastrophic economic (not to mention physical) occurrence as early as the coming summer. I will begin to make significant business and personal financial decisions immediately based on that likelihood.

To my mind there are, on this issue, two kinds of people: alarmists and fools. There are indeed many reasons to believe that the worst will not occur. But reverting to business-school language that I normally find anathema, there is utterly no reason to believe that there is not a non-trivial statistical likelihood that a catastrophic event of epic proportion will occur within the next 12 months. (Sorry for the triple negative.)

Undisguised "alarmism" is clearly the Asian mood. Perhaps we should pay attention to those pinioned in the eye of the storm.

(Oh, I had a lovely walk in Taipei. I love the hyper-active street life of big Asian cities.)