Tourism preps for potential flu threat

Travel and tourism officials from 30 countries were
addressed by UN influenza coordinator Dr. David Nabarro in Paris at
their two-day practice of responses to a potential pandemic outbreak.Good planning, clear arrangements for direction and staff
communications, a fully prepared work force, and clear procedures for
customer and workplace safety are the keys to protecting the interests
of travelers, companies, and the entire sector, Dr. Nabarro said in his
message to the group.

At any given time, there are over two million travelers abroad, and many
million more traveling within home countries, according to Geoffrey
Lipman, Assistant Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism
Organization. He underscored that there is no present threat to tourism
from avian flu. The purpose of the two-day exercise in Paris, organized
by the UNWTO, is to hone coordination within countries as well as across
borders in the event of a regional or global crisis such as a rapidly
spreading outbreak of a new influenza type among humans, he said.

“The tourism sector is commited to being fully prepared in the event of
a pandemic”, Mr. Lipman said. A special portal has been launched at
www.sos.travel to help travelers and the industry in case of such an
emergency.

In his remarks, UN System Influenza Coordinator Nabarro said that the
travel and tourism sector is highly susceptible to market tremors. He
reminded officials that the 2004 outbreak of SARS in East Asia, with a
fatality toll limited to several hundred, nevertheless resulted in $50
billion in economic damage overall, and sent tourism in the region into
a temporary tailspin.

The industry concerned with moving people away from their home bases,
especially via airlines and airports, comprises only one sector that is
taking seriously the possibility that the current avian influenza,
widespread on three continents, might transmute into a strain that is
deadly and rapidly transmissible among humans, according to Dr. Nabarro.

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Among the first to take notice were those most directly affected:
companies in livestock and poultry, and pharmaceuticals and health care.

Following their lead were big banks and finance firms, particularly
those dealing with stocks and other kinds of trading, and insurance and
re-insurance; utilities like electricity, water and food distribution;
companies concerned with the supply of essential goods and their
transport; building maintenance firms; companies involved in security,
sanitation and hygiene; or in management of wildlife, parks and the
environment.

These businesses are taking steps to be able to maintain operations
essential to corporate survival and to public welfare over a period of
weeks or months, Dr. Nabarro said.
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