The tourism industry is beginning to feel the major effects of swine flu, with the number of Japanese tourist cancellations escalating as the virus spreads.
Peter O’Reilly, chief executive officer of Tourism Whitsundays, says Australia is holding up well but that tourist numbers from Asia are dropping.
“Cairns is doing particularly badly, the Japanese were just beginning to come back with the new Jetstar flights, but they are quite scared when it comes to health scares and they stop travelling. The Gold Coast has seen numbers plummet after they’d been building nicely. Japanese cancellations have gone through the roof.”
But O’Reilly says that because the flu has not proven more deadly than a regular strain of influenza, the general public will return to tourism rather quickly.
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“There’s going to be a point in time when the public comes to a realisation that this is not a bad flu. Undoubtedly, we will see it spread across the country; it’s like every year pretty much. If we’d been the first place to get it, that wouldn’t be good but it’s inevitable that we’ll all get a dose of it.”
Meanwhile businesses have been warned to step up their swine flu response plans after Victorian Premier John Brumby said the virus is spreading so rapidly all methods of containing it will soon become useless.
The state now has 212 confirmed cases of swine flu, with over 3,000 people in isolation.
“You get to a point where the number of cases continues to escalate, and to be honest, it becomes physically impossible to track everybody who’s got the virus and everybody who’s come in contact with them,” he said.
“In the next week or so, we will come into that stage and we will need to consider whether we move from ‘contain’ to ‘sustain’. We haven’t made that decision at this stage.”
During the ‘contain’ phase, those who have had contact with swine flu carriers are quarantined, but during a ‘sustain’ phase only those people living with a confirmed case of swine flu are quarantined.
As the move to a ‘sustain’ phase is considered, businesses are also being encouraged by the Government to put workplace contingency plans into effect for a Phase Five outbreak.
Measures during this phase include arranging for staff to work from home, eliminating non-essential travel, purchasing consumables and giving staff regular updates on the virus.
But businesses are also being warned to consider preparing for a Phase Six outbreak, the highest level, with Government recommendations for that phase including:
• Consider the business’s viability and prepare to either reduce or suspend work if a business is hit by the outbreak and does not provide ‘key services’.
• Prepare for longer wait periods for goods from overseas, and even organise alternative providers.
• Isolate air circulation systems into quiet areas of the business.
• Introduce more cleaning and disinfecting products.
• Use personal protective equipment for staff in customer interaction roles.
• Provide health information of employees.
• Encourage home quarantines for staff feeling ill.
Federal Health Minster Nicola Roxon said Australia cannot remain in a ‘contain’ phase for much longer.
“At some point in the coming period, in the coming days and weeks, particularly if the increase in numbers continues at the rate that it has, of course an assessment will be made whether we need to move to the next phase of the disease plan.”