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The flu news epidemic

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 22 January 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:258
  1. Kamran Abbasi
  1. BMJ

    In the end we weren't prepared for it. Sidney A, the real millennium bug—not a computer glitch but an influenza virus—was at the centre of a furore over its true extent and its impact on the NHS. The media generously fanned the flames. But once again New Labour's spin kings were thought to be behind the headlines.

    Two key questions arise from the past fortnight's exhaustive media coverage. Was it really a flu epidemic? And, whether it was or not, why was the NHS unable to cope?

    Before the millennium holiday the government had said that it was prepared for a surge in emergency admissions. As it turned out, the holiday period was not exceptionally busy for hospitals.

    On 4 January, however, there were signs that the lull was about to end. “Britain's Y2K flu bug is due to peak this week as the country heads for its worst epidemic since 1989 when 29,000 died,” observed Jill Palmer in the Mirror. “Calls to NHS Direct, the national nurse-led helpline, have soared from 4,000 to 14,000 a day. Meanwhile, pharmacists have reported a fourfold increase in the number of customers asking for cold and flu …

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