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New SARS fears: Media caution required

The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) responding to fears that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) may …

The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) responding to fears that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) may re-emerge is calling for media restraint and accuracy. PATA is reminding the media and public that the World Health Organization has NOT issued any travel advisories pertaining to the one suspected SARS case now under surveillance in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province in southern China (PRC).

In contrast with the emergence of SARS early last year, highly sophisticated surveillance and response mechanisms are now in place around the world. Furthermore, China (PRC) medical authorities have been praised by the World Health Organization for the speed, efficiency and transparency of their response to the one isolated case last month.

As of, January 9, 2004, China (PRC`s) Health Ministry says there is only one suspected case — a waitress in Guangzhou city, who is under surveillance in an isolation ward.

PATA President and CEO Mr. Peter de Jong said all parties must not make the same mistakes as last year. I particularly urge the consumer media not to fan the flames of public fear by overstating the threat of any new outbreak of SARS. This is a time for the media to show its professionalism by maintaining perspective and not hyping the issue. Because of misplaced hysteria 10 months ago, thousands of people in the Asia Pacific travel industry lost their jobs. This must not happen again.

On January 8, the WHO said in an official release: Symptoms of SARS mimic those of several other respiratory diseases, including many that are more frequently seen during the winter months. Some of these diseases may also give rise to atypical pneumonia. It is likely that numerous other suspected cases will be reported over the coming weeks.

The PATA President and CEO said: All of us have to remain vigilant. The travel industry across the Asia Pacific region has taken all reasonable measures to ensure traveller safety and well-being in face of any new health challenge. PATA will continue to take a leading communications role to protect our industry whatever the threat.

PATA urges local authorities facing any future suspected cases of SARS to take quick and decisive measures to contain the problem. Health authorities should then inform the public of measures taken and keep them fully updated with the latest developments.

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