The outbreak of SARS has understandably caused great concern among the travel and tourism industry and among the public in general. The mystery surrounding the virus and the extensive media coverage of causalities have heightened this concern.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) has been pro-active in keeping its membership informed about the SARS. On April 10th, we hosted a training workshop for member countries on crisis communication and while SARS was not the overriding reason for the workshop, it was used as a case study, thus helping participants frame their response to the outbreak.
We are in contact with the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) as well as with member countries as we gather information and review the global situation. Much of this information is now available on www.onecaribbean.org, the CTO Intranet site, under the heading: SARS: Caribbean Tourism Response Centre.
The SARS section contains several folders with information on SARS. Among these are Caribbean Countries Responses to SARS and Other News on SARS. In addition, there are links to the web sites of some key organisations - the World Health Organisation (WHO), CAREC and the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) - which provide very important information on SARS. CTO encourages everyone to visit the Caribbean Response Centre for regular updates.
While there have been no cases of the virus in the Caribbean, we have to remain vigilant. It is important for tourism and health to work together to create a seamless message to locals and visitors alike, that our member countries are preparing themselves to deal with any case that may arise. We have to be alert but we must not panic.
Already, member countries have adopted WHO/CAREC guidelines for the surveillance of SARS. Several of them have implemented screening procedures for travellers arriving from SARS-affected areas identified by the WHO. They have developed plans for their health services, particularly hospitals for the management of suspected and probable cases of SARS, including the identification of isolation rooms.
CAREC has also circulated guidelines to the hotel sector advising that suspected or probable cases must be confined to their rooms and that they should not be rushed to a hospital in a crowded bus.
CTO continues to monitor the situation and will continue to be a centre of information to our membership. In the meantime, we wish to encourage all tourism authorities in both the public and private sectors to cooperate fully with the health authorities in preventing the disease.