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Friday, January 29, 1999 Published at 16:28 GMT


Millennium survival guide

BBC Doctor Colin Thomas: "People are the big threat"

I'm sorry to be an anorak, but this week's story about NHS staff requesting extra payments for working the millennium has started off my paranoia again.

So before I have to take my tablets let me share this with you. Is it going to be dangerous being in hospital over the millennium? I don't think so.

Is it going to be dangerous in a lift? I doubt it. So what's the big fuss?

Well, people. They, not computers, will cause the most problems.

Before you think I've gone barking, let me explain. Most people are quite unaware of the potential for millennium problems, and will not have planned ahead.

Suddenly, say in October this year, they will wake up to the fact that they might have problems with food, energy, petrol and so on. So what will they do?

You've guessed it - panic. Panic will generate problems even if not one computer stresses out on the change to the year 2000.

There'll be a run on candles - I can guarantee you won't be able to find one in November.

And turn your thoughts to Delia Smith. What happens when she tells the nation there's going to be a shortage of shallots this year?

The nation bombs down to Sainsbury's, to clear the shelves, and I'm sure that is what will happen in the last hours of 1999. Of course, shallots may not be the only product affected.

What's the health angle Doc?

Well, it will be winter. If the power does fail then it will be cold.

Vulnerable people will have lost the battle at the checkout and probably won't have much food. You know how it is after Christmas - the turkey runs out and you need to stock up.

Cold living quarters plus no food equals hypothermia - a huge killer of the elderly and infirm.

What can I do Doc?

You need to prepare in the next few months before the rush starts. Concentrate on:

  • Food - tinned, as freezers may not work;
  • UHT (sterilised) milk;
  • Cereals;
  • Drinking water;
  • Independent means of producing heat, such as a bottled gas heater;
  • Small bottled gas cooking ring;
  • Candles or batteries for your torch.

You can certainly survive on tinned food, but make sure you try to get a balance of protein (meat and fish) and carbohydrates (vegetables and fruit).

Fibre will come from the cereal, which you can enjoy with the UHT milk.

Two weeks supply of food is required, because panic buying will continue until, as I suspect, people realise that things weren't as bad as expected.

I've deliberately written my article now because I don't want to be accused of scare mongering closer to the time.

Many will not share your forethought and planning, so prepare yourself at the start of 1999 and sit back and enjoy the show as panic sweeps the streets at its end.

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