Swine flu outbreak updates


The FCO is now advising against all but essential travel to Mexico. Routine consular and all visa services at the British Embassy in Mexico City have been suspended until further notice. British nationals in Mexico who have an urgent consular issue have been given a number to call.

The US Dept of State and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a notice recommending that American citizens avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico. American citizen services in Mexico are restricted to passports and consular reports of birth abroad and emergency services.

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Ministry of Health are calling for the utmost caution from their citizens and have advised against all nonessential travel to Mexico. It also recommends that people returning from a trip to Mexico contact the emergency services in their region if they develop symptoms within a week of arriving home.

The Australian government is advising Australians to reconsider the need to travel to Mexico, and is advising those already there to consider leaving the country. The smarttraveller website advises travellers to vaccinate against seasonal flu. The Australian government has also put in place stronger border controls, and pilots flying to the country are obliged to report any passengers exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

As of 27 April, travellers from Canada are recommended by their government to postpone elective or nonessential travel to Mexico until further notice.

Sergio Massa, cabinet chief in Argentina, has banned direct flights from Mexico until 4/5/09 in order to transmit a sense of calm to Argentine's. The government also wants tens of thousands of north American visitors to report to the Health Ministry.

The Cuban government has suspended all flights to and from Mexico for 48 hours in a move to prevent the illness from reaching the Caribbean island.

Travelling public
In the UK, major tour operators have cancelled flights to Mexico and are flying customers already in Mexico back to the UK in planes that have been specially laid on for the purpose. Thomson, First Choice and Thomas Cook have all cancelled their services to Cancun, while Kuoni has suspended holidays to Mexico until 4 May. British Airways, however, is continuing to operate its four weekly flights to Mexico for the moment, saying it is up to passengers whether they fly or not. Spanish airline Iberia is also still flying to Mexico, although it has offered passengers the chance the change their destination if they please. German carrier Lufthansa said it had experienced an increase in cancellations for flights to Mexico, but that aircraft leaving the country were full to capacity. TransAT, a Canadian travel firm, has flown both customers and staff back to Canada and has postponed all future flights to Mexico for the foreseeable future. American Airlines has said it will waive its usual penalty for changing seat reservations for anyone travelling to, from or through Mexico until 6 May. The airline has not cancelled any flights yet, and said it is monitoring the situation closely. United Airlines has also issued a travel waiver due to the outbreak – passengers who purchased tickets between 26 and 30 April may change their travel plans without incurring a penalty.
Cruise lines are also making swift changes 'Royal Caribbean Cruises is temporarily suspending its port calls in Mexico' it has four ships currently cruising around the area that had been scheduled to stop in Mexico. Celebrity Cruises had one ship scheduled to make a port call in Mexico, which has now been rerouted. Fred Olsen has cancelled its call into Acapulco; instead, the ship will stay longer in San Diego.

Business impact
The American Institute for Business & Home Safety has said it would be wise for companies to prepare now for the possibility of business closures and other issues that a pandemic could bring. President and CEO of the organisation Julie Rochman said: "Evaluating specific risks and planning well beforehand for a variety of potential emergencies that could disrupt day-to-day business is critical, no matter how big or small a company may be. Fortunately, most catastrophes can be managed with advance, effective repatriation" and that means having a well-thought out action plan with specific, appropriate policies, resources and contingencies. Advice to companies includes: Determine when to curtail employee travel; develop business continuity options that provide work from home options; address sick leave policies; consider the impact a shutdown of public transportation or the loss of basic utilities would have and determine at what point the organisation would need to close its doors.
Alex Hindson, head of enterprise risk management at Aon Global Risk Consulting, agreed that it is vital for companies to evaluate their business continuity management arrangements to protect their employees and consider the potential for staff absence. Hindson explained: "Media pressure is likely to make people think very carefully before travelling on busy public transport systems and organisations could find themselves without key staff for protracted periods, whether ill, looking after relatives or merely being cautious."

Travel insurance
A mixed bag - LV= in the UK has announced its policies will cover the cancellation costs of any of its customers who have booked holidays to go to Mexico but have decided not to go. In a statement, the firm said: "The cover will be available for all single and annual trip customers who already have a policy with us and have a trip planned that was booked prior to the FCO advising against travelling."
Nick Starling of the Association of British Insurers told consumers: "Travel insurance will normally cover the cost of cancelling the trip for a number of specified reasons, including illness and redundancy. If the government advises against travelling to a particular country or region, check your travel policy, as some may cover cancellation costs in these circumstances, although policies vary." Holidaymakers to countries that have been affected by the outbreak, such as Canada or New Zealand, may wish to cancel their holiday to these destinations, but until a travel advisory is in place advising against such travel, they will lose their money and be unable to claim it back if they cancel.
John Cook of US-based online insurance provider Quote Wright pointed out that on some of the more basic plans on offer in the US, trip cancellation only applies to what is referred to as 'named perils' - ie only those situations that are named in the policy are covered - in the vast majority of policies, swine flu will not be a named peril. Most policies, though, would include cover for being quarantined and would provide cover if a trip had to be cancelled due to quarantine. Some companies, however, exclude epidemics, and therefore would not cover quarantine if it was due to an epidemic. Otherwise, if a policyholder becomes ill, they could be eligible for benefits under the medical expenses or emergency evacuation coverage, although again there are plans that exclude epidemics.