A Department of Health official canceled a trip to Bangkok yesterday in protest over the Thai government's requirement that visitors from Taiwan wear masks while on Thai soil amid the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Li Jih-heng (
But Li said he decided to cancel the trip after he received an emergency notice from conference organizers saying that Thai health authorities have demanded that all passengers from China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan and Singapore undergo physical checkups upon arrival and wear surgical masks throughout their stays in Thailand.
"The demand is excessive and unreasonable, " Li said, adding that Taiwan is not on a list of areas to which the World Health Organization [WHO] has warned against traveling.
"Therefore, I decided to cancel the trip to protest against the unfriendly Thai move," he said.
Li, a member of the organizing committee of the IEA meeting, said the protest was directed at the Thai government and had nothing to do with the conference.
Following Li's cancelation of the trip, Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (
Lin said that information concerning the Bangkok's restrictions on Taiwanese tourists is erratic, and that before Thailand gives an official clarification, the government will try to find out through diplomatic and private channels whether Taiwanese are being discriminated against.
Lin said that Li's decision "can be understood," based on the protection of national dignity and personal interests.
On Friday, DPP Legislator Lo Shih-hsiung (羅世雄) threatened to launch a national campaign to boycott travel to Thailand unless the Bangkok withdrew its measures.
In related news, a credit card manager said yesterday that credit card spending nationwide might decrease by NT$16 billion (US$461 million) this year if the SARS outbreak is not controlled.
Tina Chiang (
China, Hong Kong, and Macao absorb about 40 percent of the country's outbound travelers a year.
Chiang estimated that if the SARS impact lasts for three months, credit card spending by Taiwanese cardholders will drop by NT$4 billion this year, but if the epidemic continues without efficient control, the decrease in this year's credit card spending will quadruple.
Spending with MasterCard grew by 30 percent during the first two months of this year over the same period of last year, she said, but estimated that purchases last month and this month will drop because of the war in Iraq and the spread of SARS.