Tue, Apr 30, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Tourist influx sparks flu worries

STANDING FIRM:Although unwilling to cap the number of Chinese tourists, officials said they could not exclude the possibility of imported cases of the H7N9 bird flu

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

A janitor sprays disinfectant over empty poultry stalls at a traditional market in New Taipei City yesterday.

Photo: Mandy Cheng, AFP

The expected arrival of more than 14,000 Chinese tourists during China’s International Workers’ Day holiday that begins tomorrow has sparked public concern about the possible spread of the H7N9 avian influenza virus, although the government has remained firm that it would not impose travel restrictions, but would instead strengthen disease prevention measures.

At a plenary session of the legislature’s Economics Committee yesterday, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director-General Chang Feng-yee (張峰義) was questioned by lawmakers about potentially imposing a cap on the number of Chinese tourists. Chang said that health authorities would step up control measures against any potential outbreak and closely monitor Taiwanese businesspeople returning home from China and Chinese tourists arriving over the holiday.

“We will not impose travel restrictions on Chinese tourists. The WHO so far has not recommended any restrictions on China, not even airport screening. Compared with the rest of the world, Taiwan now has the strictest airport bird flu monitoring measures,” Chang said.

However, when asked by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) whether he agrees that Taiwan is also the country with the highest density of Chinese tourists, Chang said he concurred.

Chang said he could not exclude the possibility that there could be more imported cases of the infection after the holiday.

However, “there is no evidence yet of sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus. The Chinese health authorities have been monitoring more than a thousand close contacts of those infected with H7N9, but have not found evidence of easy transmission between people,” Chang said.

CDC Deputy Director Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) was also asked to comment on the issue at a CDC press conference yesterday.

At the conference, he was told that Huang Li-min (黃立民), head of National Taiwan University Hospital’s Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, said that allowing a normal inflow of Chinese tourists would only exhaust disease control and prevention workers.

Huang had previously said that “boosting disease control and prevention mechanisms to a fault without reducing the possibility of virus importation [from the affected area] only brings heavy pressure to bear on the CDC. Limiting the number [of Chinese tourists] even by a little is totally reasonable … How many workers do you think you have in the CDC?”

Chou said that health authorities would be on high alert when the tourists arrive and urged travel agencies to make sure their clients’ health conditions are constantly monitored.

Meanwhile, on the much-debated issue of whether the government should pay the expenses of a forced quarantine of a non-Taiwanese who is infected with the virus, Chang said this was a measure mandated by the law on notifiable communicable diseases, so it is “only when the legal support [for annulling the measure] suffices can we make changes to it.”

Chou also referred to the controversy in the press conference, highlighting that “forced quarantine measures are to protect other people in the nation from contracting the disease.”

“As far as my knowledge goes, some developed countries in Europe also have similar disease control measures,” Chou said.

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