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UNWTO Hosts Swine Flu Workshop in Madrid

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In view of the current Swine Flu (H1N1) pandemic (as officially categorised by the WHO), the UNWTO held a two-day review and preparation exercise on ‘Travel and Tourism under Pandemic Conditions’ in Madrid 26-27 August.

 The workshop was convened to anticipate the challenges the virus will bring over the next few months and ensure that the travel and tourism industry is fully prepared for the evolving pandemic.

The event brought together representatives from 33 public administrations, the private sector (transport, hospitality and travel services) and relevant International Organizations to increase preparedness for the second wave of the pandemic, expected to coincide with the beginning of the flu season in the Northern Hemisphere this coming fall.

Participants discussed actions undertaken by the sector in the context of the general industrial response and stressed the need for a transparent, consistent and timely exchange of information and communication among the different stakeholders of the sector.

 In order to avoid unnecessary disruptions it was recommended that countries should review and confirm that tourism is appropriately included in overall pandemic preparedness plans.

 A number of recommendations were made to improve business continuity, including inclusion of crucial functions in the sector among the priority groups in vaccination plans. This is especially important as tourism is important for the economy of most countries and pivotal for the poorest states.

The event included presentations by experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) explaining the status of the spread and impact of the virus. It was underscored that travel limitations would not limit the spread of A(H1N1) because it is already “the dominant influenza strain in most parts of the world”.

“This review was timely and exceptionally helpful to strengthen our sector’s preparedness and to ensure that tourism and travel continues to be effectively embedded in the global pandemic response,” said UNWTO Assistant Secretary-General Geoffrey Lipman. “We particularly appreciate the involvement and leadership of the World Health Organization.”

In line with WHO recommendations, the event stressed that travellers should be vigilant about their own health, stay informed and follow fundamental hygiene precautionary measures such as frequent hand washing and proper cough etiquette.

 It was also emphasised that travellers should ensure that their travel insurance will cover unforeseen flu related costs in the event they fall sick away from home and should take medical advice should they experience flu symptoms immediately before, during or after travel.

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