20 Days have now come and gone since the close of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) 52nd Annual Conference in Bali in April 13-17, 2003.
So, you may ask, what's that got to do with the dreaded Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic?
From where we stand, apparently, nothing. And, frankly, that fact epitomizes our view that the near-panic state affecting global travel at the moment has more to do with media frenzy than it does with any real threat confronting the traveling public.
Without wishing to discount the significance and tragedy of the 435 deaths attributed to SARS worldwide, there is a school of thought that the media's coverage of the disease borders on hysteria, creating a sense of public fear far out of proportion to any actual threat posed by the disease. Fortunately, due to fast action and a professional response from worldwide contagion experts, SARS remains largely geographically limited in its impact: 90% of all cases and 85% of all deaths have occured in the People's Republic of China and Hong Kong. Moreover, according to W.H.O. statistics, there have been no deaths associated with the disease in the United States or Europe. Canada, the sole Western victim of the disease, saw its outbreak of SARS largely limited to the City of Toronto.
How Great is the Risk?
Against this background, weigh the following comparative risks when considering if it's truly safe to travel at this time. In the U.S.A. in 2001 some 41,195 people died in traffic mishaps; an average 20,000 die each year in that country from the common cold; and an annual average 90 American's are killed by lighting strikes. By contrast, to date no deaths attributed to SARS have been reported in the U.S.A. or Europe. We could go on, flooding you with information on death by malaria, snakebites and choking while at the dinner table. But, hopefully, you get our point: of all the risks inherent in living in the modern world, SARS does not rank very high on the list.
With CNN reporters roaming the emergency wards of hospitals worlwide looking for SARS victims, we're tempted to ask: how do those camera crews manage to thread their way past the numerous traffic casualties on their way to finding the relatively less numerous suspected SARS victims?
Back to Bali
Some 20 days after the PATA Conference that drew nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world to Bali, many of them from the most severely affected SARS countries, the island continues to be free of SARS. More than twice the estimated incubation period for the disease have passed since the close of the PATA conference without any confirmed SARS cases in Bali. Two suspected cases handled by local health authorities, neither having any connection to the conference, failed to be confirmed as actual SARS infections.
So What's Our Point?
Precisely this: despite isolated pockets of SARS infections, the risk of contamination to international travelers remains, statistically speaking, infinitesimally small and very geographically specific. Safeguards and health checks in place at major international airports and border crossings offer additional layers of safety in a situation of apparent minimal risk. In short, someone traveling internationally would have to be particularly unlucky to be infected by the SARS virus and even more ill-fated to actually die of the disease.
Given the many wonders the world has to offer the modern travel, we think the benefits of international traveler still greatly outweigh any risks.
Providing, of course, you can figure out how to get to the airport of departure by walking on a cloudless day.
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