THERE were fewer people than usual in the winding and pretty streets of Malmesbury yesterday.

The absence had little if anything to do with a local person dying at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital following a bout of swine flu, though.

Rather, it was because heavy rain came down at unpredictable intervals.

In this typically English, typically imperturbable town, founded by ancient Britons and with a strong claim to being the oldest community in the country, it was very much business as usual.

That is not to say the people the Swindon Advertiser spoke to were devoid of sympathy – quite the opposite was true.

However, the order of the day was very much business as usual.

People did their shopping in the high street and the various streets leading off it; they bought lunch at cafes and bakeries; senior citizens sat and talked on benches when the weather allowed and the odd tourist paused here and there to admire the ancient architecture.

At the visitor centre in the abbey that has dominated the townscape for more than 800 years, there were words of sympathy for the victim and loved ones, but it had not occurred to anybody to treat the day as anything but normal.

One woman said: “We only know about this because we heard about it on the news. It’s a great shame.”

“There is certainly no panic,” added another.

This lack of panic was confirmed by the Liberal Democrat Wiltshire Council member for Malmesbury, Simon Killane.

He said: “The mood is one of calm concern.

“The information we have from the NHS is that we have to respect the confidentiality of the person who died.

“My role here in Malmesbury is to make sure that the community does not get unnecessarily stressed about he situation.

“The national headlines are not helping because they are talking about hundreds of thousands of people dying – and the primary purpose of that sort of thing is to sell newspapers.”

The councillor said a special community meeting had been called for Tuesday at 7pm in the town hall, when NHS representatives would deliver a briefing about the situation, including advice and reassurance.

He urged the public to remain calm and continue to read and listen to NHS advice.

He added: “It is important to have this briefing, and important to be positive and explain the scale of the problem and what people can do.”

Inquiries about the identity of the victim who died at the Great Western Hospital led to a house in a small community near Malmesbury.

Some of those who spoke to the Swindon Advertiser said the victim had already been suffering from another medical condition when she contracted the illness.

At the address in question, a man who answered the door declined to make any comment.