Yesterday, in response to the apparent Swine Flu epidemic, Kevin Rudd called “for all Australians to engage in the simple practice of washing their hands with soap on a regular basis,” which, if you consult the footage, gelled nicely with his famous hand chopping motion he uses to hammer home a point at the podium.

Rudd was echoing the call issued just hours earlier by his good mate Barack Obama. “Wash your hands when you shake hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference,” the President-turned nanna said.

The duo were responding to World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan’s upgrading of the threat level to phase five out of a possible six, alongside panicked language suggesting “all of humanity” could be impacted by the renegade H1N1 strain.

Of course “all of humanity” includes Australia, and if the anecdotes piling in from the front line are any indication, the nation may be edging closer to delirium.

In Sydney’s CBD, eyewitnesses have described reams of hypochondriacs donning face masks, ratcheting up fears of an impending aporkalypse. Many of the mask-wearers may be refugees from Sydney airport, with passengers and staff there mirroring their counterparts at international terminals across the country.

Up north, Queensland Health’s Dr Jeannette Young has urged people to stockpile food to reduce the number of times they have to go to the shops in case there is an outbreak.

“Have it in your house ready just in preparation — some stocks of tinned food and frozen vegetables in the freezer, that sort of thing,” she said. Thankfully, “there’s no need to stockpile water.”

However, Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has said there is no need for panic food buying ahead of a possible pandemic.

Over in Adelaide, Crikey understands that Serco bus drivers operating in the city’s northern suburbs have been told that if the WHO makes good on its plans to raise the threat level to 6, they will be required to boot off anyone caught coughing without a mask.

Serco has ordered box-loads of masks so drivers can dispense them before non-infected passengers catch the lurgy.

As yet there are no confirmed cases of H1N1 in Australia, despite several reports of the dreaded “flu-like symptoms”. And after days of blanket coverage, the local media appears to have lost interest, relegating stories to the inner pages, or at least below the fold.

But here at Crikey, we’re still tracking the fallout. We’ll be documenting all pork puns (ham-demic, it’s squealy no big deal, hambulances, etc) and more serious developments, over the coming days of doom.

Has your workplace, school or training institution issued any bizarre directives to deal with the Swine Flu scourge? Email your tales (and/or pork puns) to [email protected] and we’ll run a selection of the more left-field suggestions on Monday.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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