Monday, April 27, 2009

Europe Travel `Ban' to U.S.? Says Who?

That old devil paraphrase is back in the news today with alarming reports (alarming to U.S. airlines, I assure you) that Europeans are being "urged" not to travel to the United States unless it's absolutely essential because of concerns about swine flu in Mexico that has evidently spread to about 20 people in the U.S.

"Urged" under what circumstances and by whom, I wonder? It is not at all clear from what I've read so far. It's pretty difficult to track down the actual "urging." Actually, the basis of the report seems to be a comment, rather than an official announcement, made by a European Union health commissioner.

There was a big scary red headline on the Huffington Post : "Europe Warned: Postpone U.S. Travel." The story seems a bit muddled about the precise nature of this warning, however. [The big red headline has since been downgraded to something less hysterical. Meanwhile, I haven't checked today to see how badly that simpleton Drudge is hyperventilating over all this, life being just too damn short.]

The origin of the "warning" seems to be this, as it appeared in the London Independent and other British papers today:

"Britons were urged to postpone non-essential travel to the United States or Mexico today as senior officials held emergency talks over the deadly outbreak of swine flu.

The European Union's health commissioner Andorra Vassiliou met EU foreign ministers on the subject and advised people to reassess their travel plans.

'They should avoid travelling to Mexico or the United States of America unless it is very urgent for them,' she said."

Again, it's not clear under what circumstances this saying got "said." My hunch is that it was a comment made off-handedly in response to press clamor, and not a statement of an official position.

In fact, the reporter for the French news agency Agence France-Presse seems to have heard a different comment from Vassiliou, whom it quotes as saying, "Personally, I would try to avoid non-essential travel to the areas which are reported to be in the center of the cluster."

Personally, I would ease up on the panic button, Mr. Vassiliou [the London paper evidently got his gender wrong and who knows what else), till I had more information. And if I were an editor, I would insist that these half-baked stories contain actual quotes and get themselves sourced credibly.

The Wall Street Journal online today clears some of the confusion up, thankfully. Evidently, this Vassiliou has been prattling on all day, and then modifying his comments as he caught hell for them.

Reports the WSJ: "But Mr. Vassiliou toned down earlier comments referring to all of North America. `I meant a travel advisory, not a travel ban, for travel to Mexico City and those states in the United States where we have outbreaks' of swine flu, he said."

The European Union officially advising against travel to the U.S. would be a very big story. But this just isn't the case.

On the other hand, U.S. airlines that bet so heavily on international routes in recent years have to be sweating this one out. There are few better ways to spread a virus than in the confined space of a crowded airplane on a long flight.


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