Fear of Antrax is growing


The Antrax scare has hit the Czech Republic as it has many other countries. In spite of politicians' assurances that there is no imminent threat, that the situation is being monitored and that the health system is ready to cope with any unforeseen situations, the threat of chemical or biological attack is making many people nervous. Olga Szantova has more.

It seems that Czechs are learning to keep their eyes open and notice things more than they used to. Discarded plastic bags or suspicious bottles used to arouse suspicion only in places like London, which has seen numerous bomb scares in the past. But Czechs hardly used to take notice of anything lying in the Metro, or on the street. Now, it seems, that is changing. People are reporting anything they consider suspicious and firemen have their hands full collecting reported items. On Monday the Institute for Nuclear Safety, which also deals with chemical and biological threats, received 34 letters, parcels and other items - by Tuesday there were 15 containers filled with them. Firemen, who collect the suspicious items, were called to more than a hundred places throughout the country on Tuesday.

Fears increased after three people had been hospitalized in Liberec, North Bohemia. All of them are employees of a company which received an unexpected letter from the United States, which contained quotations from the Bible, and apparently, nothing else. As a precaution, doctors hospitalized the three persons who had opened and handled the letter, to make sure that they hadn't been contaminated.

It was just a precaution, and proved to be unnecessary, but that did not keep an internet daily called Flashnews from announcing on Tuesday afternoon that an anthrax case had been confirmed in Liberec. Both the army and the interior ministry reacted to the news instantly, looking into Flashnews' source of information. When it proved to be a false alarm, the paper withdrew the story.

But what cannot be withdrawn - in a situation like this - is the growing state of suspense and nervousness, frequently intensified by the media.

The situation has yet another, very Czech aspect, i.e. the many pranksters playing practical jokes. Hoaxes, false alarms and false threats are increasing at such a rate that interior minister Stanislav Gross has warned that the police would prosecute any practical jokers.

And then there is the problem of some inexperienced politicians and public officials going about calming the public in a rather clumsy manner. For example - Prague's Chief Public Health Officer has issued a statement calling on people to keep calm, assuring them that there was no threat of antrax, but adding that the public might be threatened by some 21 other diseases that are included on a list published by NATO.

Author: Olga Szantová
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