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Published on Friday, January 24, 2020

Operators insist virus outbreak is 'very remote threat' in Europe

European tour operators have issued a statement in a bid to reassure travellers that the coronavirus outbreak remains a 'very remote threat' for travel in Europe.

As cases of the virus spread from China to other countries in Asia, and to the US, the European tourism association, ETOA, says precautions are in place and there is 'effectively no threat' to those travelling in Europe.

There are currently no reports of anyone being infected with the virus in Europe, except for a suspected case involving an arriving passenger in Finland.

In the UK, 14 people have been tested for the virus but were given the all-clear.

"Whilst there is much that is unknown about this new virus, we do know that the factors that led to the rapid spread of SARS are not being repeated," said Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA.

"The Chinese authorities have been prompt in highlighting the problem, and are supplying daily updates on the situation.

"The Chinese may be far more mobile than they were in 2002, but the country is far better prepared and determined that the virus will be contained. Draconian measures are being put in place to halt any spread, including the banning of all outbound public transport from Wuhan."

Jenkins said back in 2002 SARS was spread by people not knowing about the infection and, consequently, being unaware they were travelling from an infected area.

SARS was contracted by approximately 8,000 people of whom 10% died.

ETOA said the collateral damage from the fear of SARS was estimated as being between $30 billion and $100 billion of disrupted trade and travel.

"This is not the case in 2020," he said. "In Europe, precautions are in place. Airports are installing monitoring. Major public information campaigns are being initiated. All health officials are on alert. The virus is of major international concern, it remains a very remote threat - effectively no threat - for any traveller in Europe. "

Since the first case of the new virus was reported on December 31, there have been almost 3,000 cases including 281deaths.

The overwhelming majority of these cases are in Wuhan province in central China, with isolated cases elsewhere in Beijing, Shenzhen, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam and the US. There have been a number of suspected but unconfirmed cases in Hong Kong.

To date all of these cases are connected directly with people originating from Wuhan, which is now on lockdown.

A 1,000-bed hospital is currently being constructed in the city to cope with the number of sick and is expected to be finished by February 3.

The statement from ETOA came after it emerged that travel agents and operators in China have been told to stop selling tours to international destinations from Monday.

Joss Croft, UKinbound CEO, said China is a key inbound market for many of its members but 'so far' there appears to be 'little impact' on UK tourism businesses. He said the organisation, along with VisitBritain, was monitoring the situation closely.

On Friday the World Travel and Tourism Council urged for 'unnecessary panic' over the outbreak to be contained.

It said unless lessons are learned from previous viral epidemics there could be a damaging and lasting economic impact on travel and tourism globally.

Public Health England haspublished guidelines about the coronavirus that would be useful for agents and operators to share with any worried clients.


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