The growing number of swine-flu cases in the United States and Mexico has caused some governments to issue a travel warning against travel to affected areas in Mexico and the US, adding more uncertainty to the travel and tourism industry, which is already experiencing the finch caused the ongoing global economic downturn.
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) warned this weekend that an outbreak of swine flu could become a pandemic. So far, it is being estimated that over a 100 people have died and 1614 cases in Mexico because of the outbreak, which is being reported to have mutated from being passed on from pig-to-human to human-to-human contact.
According to published reports, there are already suspected cases in New Zealand, France and Israel as well as in Mexico, where the virus began, and neighboring USA.
According to mdtravelhealth.com, smaller outbreaks have been reported from San Luis Potosi in central Mexico and from Mexicali, near the border with the United States. All schools, museums, and libraries in Mexico City have been closed.
Also, 20 cases have been reported from the United States (New York City, California, Texas, Kansas and Ohio) and four cases from Nova Scotia, Canada. It has been confirmed by White House Homeland security advisor John Brennan that US President Barack Obama has ordered a “very active, aggressive, and coordinated response.”
In a statement released over the weekend, the WHO said that it is coordinating the global response to human cases of the virus – swine influenza A (H1N1) – and monitoring the corresponding threat of an influenza pandemic.
“The committee agreed that the current situation constitutes a public health emergency of international concern,” said WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan after a meeting of the Emergency Committee on Saturday.
“Concerning public health measures, in line with the [International Health] Regulations the director-general is recommending, on the advice of the Committee, that all countries intensify surveillance for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia,” she added.
H1N1 is the same strain that causes seasonal flu outbreaks in humans, but the new strain contains genetic material from versions of flu which usually affect pigs and birds.
The travel industry’s resilience is yet again being tested amid being already in a state of siege from the global financial crisis. Several countries in Asia and Latin America have begun screening airport passengers for symptoms, according to published reports.
So far, Hong Kong and South Korea have warned against travel to the Mexican capital and three affected provinces. Italy, Poland and Venezuela also advised their citizens to postpone travel to affected areas of Mexico and the United States.
It is a case of déjà vu yet again as televisions across the globe are again showing people donning facemasks, a scenario last seen during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome pandemonium. While Asia bore the brunt of the SARS scare, the impact on travel and tourism was certainly felt worldwide.