Since Hongkong announced its first confirmed case of H1N1 on May 1, the Hongkong Tourism Board (HKTB) has been sparing no effort to keep travellers informed of the situation as it has been developing. Its measures have included:
• a dedicated 24-hour visitor hotline at tel 852 9538 5912;
• making information available through the visitor hotline and Visitor Centres on the availability of hotels on Hongkong Island should visitors who made reservations at Metropark Hotel Wanchai need assistance in locating alternate accommodation;
• providing alcohol-based hand cleaner and surgical masks to visitors at the Visitor Centres;
• providing information about preventive measures and advice from the government through HKTB channels, including the Visitor Centres, visitor hotline and HKTB website; and
• increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of all Visitor Centres every two hours.
The HKTB has disseminated comprehensive information to its worldwide offices in order to keep the travel trade and consumers in those markets abreast of the latest situation in Hongkong.
When they announced the arrival of H1N1 through a Mexican national, who transited via Shanghai, government authorities ruled out any immediate reaction to ban visitors from that country. Hongkong was an open port, they said, and such measures were “not practical” and would endanger its image as a financial and tourism hub.
China’s recent draconian anti-H1N1 moves, placing into quarantine some 70 Mexican travellers even if they showed no symptoms of the virus, have set off a backlash that will need some diplomatic smoothening over once perspective sets in. A number of opinions on the chat forums have also not been complimentary about the Hongkong government’s decision to quarantine about 300 guests and staff of the Metropark Hotel where the H1N1 afflicted visitor checked in. Many described it as “an overreaction”.
But despite these sentiments, China and Hongkong's unforgettable experience with SARS outbreak in 2003 will determine their measures in the days ahead should the virus still continue to flourish. What those will be, no one can tell. What is sure is that both are determined to combat this new strain with all their resources available.
Margie T Logarta