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Balance Needed in H1N1 Flu Comments

April 30, 2009 By: George Dooley

Elected officials must strike a delicate balance of accurately and adequately informing citizens of health concerns without unduly discouraging travel and other important economic activity, Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association said today in a statement. Dow’s remarks followed recent comments that might discourage Americans from using public transportation or commercial aviation during the ongoing spread of H1N1 flu.

“According to President Obama, swine flu is a cause for concern, but not panic," Dow said. "President Obama's measured and responsible comments are appropriate and should provide useful guidance to other elected officials.

"Americans should heed the advice of medical experts when determining how best to manage health concerns during the ongoing swine flu outbreak.  According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and countless other experts, swine flu should not discourage people from traveling to or within the United States,” Dow said.  "Elected officials must strike a delicate balance of accurately and adequately informing citizens of health concerns without unduly discouraging travel and other important economic activity.”

Dow did not mention remarks of Vice President Joe Biden that discouraged air travel.
Biden said Thursday on NBC’s "Today" show that he advised his family to stay off airplanes and subways because of the H1N1 flu threat. "I would tell members of my family — and I have — that I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now," Biden said.

His remark won immediate media coverage and the Vice President’s Office qualified the remarks. But the comments raised concerns industry wide with the impact of fear mongering and the effects on the economy.

The Air Transport Association (ATA), the industry trade organization for the U.S. airlines, reacted sharply with a letter to Vice President Biden.

“Vice President Biden’s comment that people should avoid air travel in response to the H1N1 flu outbreak was extremely disappointing,” said ATA President and CEO James C. May. “The airlines have been working daily with government agencies, none of whom suggest people avoid air travel, unless they are not feeling well. The fact is that the air onboard a commercial aircraft is cleaner than that in most public buildings.”

Earlier, the ATA issued a statement on the crisis, underscoring the airline industry’s concerns. ”The safety and security of employees and passengers is our number-one priority –airlines have a long history of monitoring and preparing for communicable diseases like swine flu," ATA said. "Travelers should and airline employees are taking the situation seriously, but no one should panic. Everyone should use the common-sense measures provided by CDC. Airlines continue to follow CDC recommendations for their employee procedures, which include monitoring and reporting any case of communicable disease onboard aircraft.

“While the CDC issued a ‘travel health warning’ advising people to postpone nonessential travel to Mexico, it has not called for restricting flights," ATA's statement continued. "Likewise, the World Health Organization recommended not to close borders and not to restrict international travel. ATA and the airlines will continue our close coordination with various governmental agencies and will respond as developments occur.”

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