Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu: Corporate Travelers Showing Preparedness, Not Panic

I figured the swine flu story had jumped the shark this morning when the earnest National Public Radio lady told me to stay tuned for a song about preventing dying from flu by washing your hands. I couldn't stab the button fast enough to switch to the merry all-Mariachi station that comes in from Mexico, which is my annoyance-default on the radio in Tucson. I figured if the all-Mariachi station interrupted the merriment for a news bulletin, I could switch back to NPR and hope they had something in English beyond a ditty about hand-washing.

The usual hysterics in the media have failed in their desperation to hype this story, which common-sense Americans are staying well-informed about by reading sensible newspapers and following sensible online reporting.

Here is a great example of how common sense, coupled with reasonable precaution, are prevailing:

A survey by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) indicates that preparedness, not panic, is the response f the global corporate travel community to the flu outbreak.

The majority of companies report minimal or no travel cancellations (outside of Mexico). According to the group's executive director, Susan Gurley, survey results show that business travelers are focused not on avoiding travel but on the precautions that should be taken while on the road.

This indicates that "a majority of companies [are] showing confidence in their contagion and pandemic plans," said Gurley. "Actually, preparedness levels are much higher than they were at the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome -- SARS -- in 2003. At that time, companies had to gear up for a potential pandemic. They have now had six years to build upon their contagion and pandemic plans and to perfect their implementation. This is a contributing factor in the lack of panic now."

Sixty-two percent of the survey’s respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Do you currently have a pandemic emergency plan that covers the evacuation or hospitalization of infected travelers in a foreign country facing an outbreak of contagion?” That percentage jumped to 73 percent when respondents also answered yes to “Does your company’s pandemic emergency plan provide for the majority of employees to work from home or a remote location in the event of a pandemic in your country of origin?”

"There was concern that these might be the same contingency plans developed six years ago, but the survey clearly indicates that is not the case," said Gurley. Fifty-eight percent of the respondents reported that their companies have been upgrading these plans on a regular basis. Furthermore, 68 percent stated that travelers and employees are advised of the upgrades every three months. Twenty-four percent said travelers were advised or reminded of the program prior to every trip.

"This represents a substantial improvement over conditions that existed in the industry prior to SARs in 2003," said Gurley.

Slightly less than half of the poll’s respondents -- 47 percent -- have restricted business travel -- but only to Mexico.

• Three percent have restricted travel to the U.S. and Mexico, while, while 7 percent are restricting travel to any country with reported cases of H1N1 swine influenza.
• One percent reported restricting travel to the U.S. only.
• Forty-two percent are claiming no travel restrictions at all.

Summation: Excluding travel to Mexico, only 11 percent of respondents cited travel restrictions.

Those percentages undergo a substantial shift when it comes to the cancelation of meetings in which colleagues may be exposed to the H1N1 from the handshakes and sneezes of others during business meetings, however.

• Thirty-seven percent of the survey’s respondents said they were canceling meetings, or restricting travelers from attending meetings, in which they could be exposed to the H1N1 swine influenza through colleagues from countries with reported infections.

• Sixty-three percent reported no change in their meetings program.

Reporting on concern levels expressed by individual business travelers, survey respondents claimed that only 28 percent of business travelers requested a cancellation or postponement of a business trip to a country with reported cases of H1N1 swine influenza.

• Thirty-eight percent reported that traveler concern was only limited to asking about the appropriate precautions that should be taken against the swine influenza while traveling.

• Thirty-four percent cited there was no traveler concern.


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