The world may be on the brink of the first influenza pandemic in more than 40 years as The World Health Organization (WHO) calls the situation a "public-health emergency of international concern." The apparent emergence in several countries of an entirely new strain of H1N1 flu virus (Swine Flu) has led some scientists to believe that it is only a matter of time before the WHO declares pandemic status, a move that has already resulted in travel warnings to infected countries.
Still, as of April 28, the WHO's pandemic alert status was at phase four, with phase six being an actual pandemic. That "indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable," the WHO's director general states.
The European Union (EU) has urged Europeans to postpone nonessential travel to Mexico and parts of the United States because of the virus. The U.S. State Department on April 27 issued a formal Travel Alert, recommending that "American citizens avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico." In the United States, there are 40 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization, including 28 in New York City (all students in the same school), seven in California, two in both Kansas and Texas, and one in Ohio. None have resulted in death.
China, Taiwan, and Russia are considering quarantines and several Asian countries are scrutinizing visitors arriving at their airports. U.S. customs officials began checking people entering U.S. territory. Officers at airports, seaports, and border crossings are watching for signs of illness, says Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling.
Hardest hit from the swine flu is Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak with more than 1,600 cases, including 149 deaths suspected and 20 confirmed. The Mexican government closed all public schools and canceled hundreds of public events in Mexico City. Meetings and events are following suit. Cases have been confirmed in Spain, Scotland, Israel and New Zealand, and are suspected in Brazil and Australia.
A corporate meeting for a high tech company scheduled to be held at the W in Mexico City on April 30 was one such cancellation.
"The company decided to cancel keeping the wellbeing of its employees and production company in mind," explains Tim Neill, technical production manager, Portland, Ore.-based Opus Solutions, the event management company planning the meeting. This is the first time Neill has ever had a meeting cancel because of a health concern.
The first annual Latin American Medical Tourism Conference was cancelled today, the day it was to begin. An e-mail was sent out to all participants that states they "have been advised by Monterrey HCC officials on behalf of the Governor of Nuevo Leon and Ministry of Health that this is a preventative measure in accordance with Mexico's government protocols." The conference was to be held at the Presidente Intercontinental in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.
These are just two of the many meetings and events being cancelled or postponed.
Mexico's tourism industry was in crisis even before this swine flu outbreak. The industry had been grappling with fears that Mexico's drug war has made the country too risky to visit.
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, is asking for pragmatism. "We recommend that government officials treat this issue and any forthcoming statements with care and caution. We must address the situation with measured, pragmatic responses so as not to cause panic and negative consequences to the economy if health risks are not imminent. We stand ready to assist the U.S. government and health experts in any way necessary to communicate critical information to travelers. The U.S. Travel Association has contacted all relevant agencies with an offer to help in any way needed, and will soon begin posting updates on www.ustravel.org."
More news is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.