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Australia’s pandemic influenza ‘Protect’ phase: emerging out of the fog of pandemic

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Recent sociological analyses of contemporary emergency planning foreground a potential break between preparedness plans animated by the spectre of an imaginary future catastrophe and classical public health efforts that are anchored in close knowledge of populations and efforts to prevent the transmission of disease. Whilst scholarly analysis to date suggests that the distinct rationales of public health governance underpinning these different approaches are likely to be entwined and to work in productive tension with each other, less attention has been paid to how this tension plays out in practice. Using 27 semi-structured interviews with public health experts involved in the development or implementation of Australia’s pandemic influenza plan, this paper examines how preparedness efforts established in anticipation of a catastrophic threat were reconfigured during the Australian 2009 (H1N1) pandemic influenza. Specifically, one Australian state broke with the national plan and rapidly inserted an entirely new pandemic phase – which became known as ‘Protect’ – into their response, thereby providing a critical reorientation in the ‘fog of pandemic’. Our analysis indicates that classical population health efforts interrupted not only the vision of catastrophe embedded within the plans, but the actual plans and their implementation, forcing the public health response in a new direction.
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Keywords: Australia; pandemic influenza; preparedness; public health governance; securitisation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Medicine, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia 2: Faculty of Arts, School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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