Sun, Apr 06, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Health official cancels trip in protest

SARS UPROAR The chief of the National Bureau of Controlled Drugs is angry about restrictions Thailand has imposed on Taiwanese visitors to the kingdom

AGENCIES , TAIPEI

Members of the German orchestra, Ensemble Modern, attend a meeting after beginning a required 10-day quarantine upon their arrival in Taipei because a a suspected SARS case was on their flight to Taipei.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

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 (李志恆), director-general of the National Bureau of Controlled Drugs, was originally scheduled to leave for Bangkok yesterday to attend an annual meeting of the International Ergonomics Association (IEA).

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 (林佳龍) said yesterday the Executive Yuan will convene an inter-government agency meeting today to decide how to respond to the Thai government's measures for Taiwanese visitors.

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 (江威娜), vice president and business manager of MasterCard International responsible for Great China area, said the rapid spread of SARS in China and Hong Kong has reduced peoples' desire to travel abroad, which will seriously affect their credit card spending habits.

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.

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