Infodemic or epidemic?

As Mexico raises the number of probable deaths due to swine flu to 152, with 1,614 suspected sufferers under observation, the British Foreign and Commonwealth office (FCO) issued a travel advisory – recommending against all but essential travel to Mexico.

International events have been cancelled, including a beach soccer championship, A1GP event, which had been scheduled for Mexico City on 24 May but will now take place at Brands Hatch, and actor Hugh Jackman’s appearance in Mexico City to promote X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

A1GP chairman Tony Teixeira said: “To say we are disappointed to have to make this call is an understatement.”

The national tourism marketing agency VisitBritain moved to allay fears of inbound business travellers. A spokesperson told Conference News: “The UK has a strong reputation for its response to and management of previous threats and our visitors need have no concerns about their health and safety when travelling to and around Britain.”

Tourism from Mexico is estimated to be worth around £40m per year to the UK.

The Destination Marketing Association International is cautioning against panic and urges opinion formers to “strike a delicate balance between accurately and adequately informing citizens, without unduly discouraging travel and other important economic activity”.

One US travel website notes that the 2003 SARS outbreak and the subsequent bird flu threat quickly became examples of ‘infodemic’(an outbreak of scare-mongering and exaggeration) rather than an actual epidemic.

Indeed, post-SARS, the Asian Development Bank noted the lost GDP for East and Southeast Asia was US$18 billion, primarily through downturns in tourist arrivals.

But if any further sobering words were required for an industry already under economic pressure, then the ’Communicable Disease Alert and Response for Mass Gatherings’ document from the World Health Organisation sounds a warning that “bringing large groups of people together in one place could put severe strains on event organisers if an epidemic or pandemic occurs”.

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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