Global tourism chiefs and health officials have called for a “measured and consistent” response to the coronavirus crisis that is “proportionate” to the global health threat posed by the deadly infection.
The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and World Health Organization (WHO) have warned against stringent, or even blanket, travel restrictions that could disrupt international traffic “unnecessarily” or have wider “negative repercussions” on the tourism sector.
It comes after the virus this week swept across Europe, with several countries – including Austria, Spain and Croatia – reporting their first cases. More than 400 cases have now been confirmed in Italy, with a number of other cases on the continent being linked to the outbreak in Italy.
A hotel in Tenerife has been placed under quarantine for 14 days after an Italian guest, understood to be a doctor, tested positive for the infection.
In the UK, the Foreign Office is currently advising against all travel to China’s Hubei province where the virus is thought to have originated, and all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China. It is also advising against all but essential travel to 11 towns in northern Italy.
Any Britons returning from parts of the country north of Florence and Pisa have been told by Public Health England to self-isolate if they are experiencing symptoms.
The same advice has been extended to those returning from virus-hit areas of Asia including South Korea, which has the second highest number of confirmed cases after China, as well as Cambodia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The WHO on 30 January declared the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern and made a series of temporary recommendations to control the spread of the infection, but these do no currently extend to any specific travel or trade restrictions. Individual countries and territories are advised to factor the WHO’s stance into their own decisions on the virus.
In a joint statement, issued on Wednesday (26 February), the WTO and UNWTO said that the global tourism sector was “fully committed to putting people and their wellbeing first” and called for international cooperation to ensure the sector makes an effective and meaningful contribution to containing the spread of the virus.
“UNWTO and WHO are working in close consultation and with other partners to assist states in ensuring health measures be implemented in ways that minimise unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade,” said the two organisations.
“Tourism’s response needs to be measured and consistent, proportionate to the public health threat and based on local risk assessment, involving every part of the tourism value chain – public bodies, private companies and tourists, in line with WHO’s overall guidance and recommendations.
“UNWTO and WHO stand ready to work closely with all those communities and countries affected by the current health emergency, to build for a better and more resilient future. Travel restrictions going beyond these may cause unnecessary interference with international traffic, including negative repercussions on the tourism sector.
“At this challenging time, UNWTO and WHO join the international community in standing in solidarity with affected countries.”