David Prosser: Winners and losers in the swine flu crisis

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The Independent Online

Outlook Executives at GlaxoSmithKline and other drugs companies could be forgiven for being a tad peeved about the lack of reaction to the strong growth reported yesterday by PZ Cussons. When GSK said it was benefiting from a surge in demand for its anti-flu drugs, it was accused of profiteering on the back of swine flu, but no one seems to think PZ Cussons is cashing in despite its soaring sales of anti-bacterial handwash.

Amid the mounting concern that swine flu poses a real threat to the UK staging a sustainable economic recovery during the second half of the year, it's worth remembering that in any crisis there are winners and losers. Next, for example, is one retailer warning that swine flu might hit its trading, as customers avoid shops because they're too ill to go out, or too scared of running into swine flu victims. But actually, with its well-developed catalogue and online arm, Next may hold up better than other retailers. Pure online shops stand to perform even better.

In the groceries sector, meanwhile, Sainsbury's isn't going to stock Tamiflu in its pharmacies because it worries about those infected with swine flu coming into its stores. Tesco and Asda have taken the opposite view – they may actually benefit from some extra business as a result.

Elsewhere, UK tourism may suffer as visitors from overseas see our relatively high infection rate as another reason to steer clear. But Britons may be more inclined to stay at home amid fears of travelling on planes, and concern about countries they know less about.

In other words, we need some perspective on the issue of whether swine flu really is a major economic threat (just as we do about the medical debate). GSK and PZ Cussons clearly won't be seeing it that way.