Sunday, 26 January 2020

Coronavirus: Whatever you do don't panic - it's only a global crisis


Containing unnecessary panic over the coronavirus outbreak in China is as vital as stemming the spread of the virus itself, global tourism chiefs are warning.

The crisis escalated over the weekend with airports near the city of Wuhan (below) closed and flights cancelled. Flights from many Chinese cities, however, did continue as normal.



The World Travel & Tourism Council said unless lessons are learnt from previous viral epidemics there could be a damaging and lasting economic impact on travel and tourism globally.

But the WTTC is an organisation that has tourism as its raison d'etre and speaks from the point of view of operators, not tourists.

"Previous cases have also shown us that closing airports, cancelling flights and closing borders often has a greater economic impact than the outbreak itself," said Gloria Guevara, WTTC president & CEO. 

Which glosses over the potential for deaths and serious illness.

Guevara really should know better. She was the former Tourism Minister of Mexico and was closely involved with the aftermath, and then recovery, of the Mexican outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus in 2009 which led to dozens of deaths.

The WTTC said it supports actions by the Chinese to restrict movement in the affected areas and additional measures being taken further afield, across the Asia Pacific and Europe.

"The most effective management of a crisis requires rapid activation of effective emergency plans, and we can see that in the early days of this outbreak, the Chinese government has acted rapidly," Guevara said.

"Quick, accurate and transparent communication is also crucial in order to contain panic and mitigate negative economic losses. Containing the spread of unnecessary panic is as important as stopping the virus itself.

"We analyse many global crises within WTTC and previous cases have shown us that the economic losses from health epidemics are avoidable, through the effective use of crisis preparedness and management procedures, as well as through managing public panic and making rational decisions through travel."

PHOTO: Workers from local disease control disinfect a
residential area in Ruichang, Jiangxi province in China. (Reuters)


So, basically, it's all about the money.

Analysis of previous major viral epidemics by WTTC experts shows that the average recovery time for visitor numbers to a destination was 19 months, but with the right response and management destinations could recover in as little as 10 months, Travel Mole reported.

The potential future lack of inbound Chinese tourists to destinations in Asia, Australia and the UK looms as a major issue.

Chinese travel agents have been told to stop selling tours and packages - both domestic and international.

As the coronavirus claims more victims, Beijing's Forbidden City palace complex, Shanghai's Disney Resort and other tourist attractions have been shut down, while hotels and airlines are waiving cancellation fees.

Share prices for China's three major airlines - China Southern, China Eastern and China Air - all took a dive when Chinese authorities said they should refund passengers for cancelled flights.

Vietnam and Singapore are the latest countries to confirm new cases of the virus. Cases have already been confirmed in Thailand, Australia, South Korea and Japan.

In Beijing, all "major events" are suspended indefinitely, which includes those for the Chinese New Year holidays, and The Forbidden City is closed.

In Hong Kong, an international carnival and annual football tournament have been cancelled, as have traditional Lunar New Year celebrations in Macau.

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