Travel industry urges calm over flu panic

2 May 2009

Travel industry bodies have urged caution over government-imposed travel advisories and possible flight bans as a means to fight the spread of the so-called "swine flu" virus. (The World Health Organization is now using the term "H1N1 influenza A" as the current strain includes genetic components of human, avian and swine origin.)

Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines, said: “Such measures, whilst well intentioned, may do more harm than good. We need a more coordinated international response.”

He pointed out that airlines and airports in Asia-Pacific already had sophisticated safety measures in place to limit the risk to passengers.

The comments came as international media organisations intensified their coverage of the flu outbreak, centred on Mexico, with news that confirmed cases had spread to new territories, such as Denmark and Hong Kong.

Sceptics have pointed out that unlike the SARS virus that killed almost 900 people worldwide, with many based in the Asia-Pacific, the total number of flu fatalities over the past six weeks is currently just 16, with the overwhelming number of confirmed cases, numbering less than 500 globally, being restricted to the North American nations of Mexico, United States and Canada, and just a handful of cases in Western Europe.

Many travel industry figures believe that the industry has already adopted sufficient stringent measures to limit the impact of infectious diseases and are concerned that media coverage is over-sensationalising the real level of risk.

The European Union Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has also warned against panic about swine flu, saying that a possible global pandemic would not necessarily cause widespread deaths.

EU ministers have also rejected a proposal by France to suspend all flights from the region to Mexico.

Kenny Coyle and Joshua Tan

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