GORDON WELCOMES TOURISTS FROM SARS-INFECTED COUNTRIESManila, April 12, 2003 -- While Filipinos are advised against visiting Hong Kong and other areas affected by the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), tourists from those areas are still welcome in the Philippines. Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon said yesterday that tourists from countries where the SARS outbreak has spread are not prohibited from coming to the Philippines. "We do not make a blanket rejection of people from those nations affected by SARS," Gordon said. "We do not want SARS, but we also cannot afford to reject tourists." Gordon said many Filipinos are dependent on the tourism industry and rejecting tourists from SARS-affected countries would have an adverse impact on local tourism and the economy. "We should be careful in our actions because there's more to it than meets the eye," Gordon said. "If we stopped them from coming here, they may retaliate." Gordon expressed strong opposition to the move of Ilocos Norte Gov. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to suspend the entry of all chartered flights from Hong Kong to the Laoag International Airport. Marcos set the ban on chartered tourist flights to prevent SARS from entering Ilocos Norte but did not ban the entry of commercial flights bearing returning Filipino workers. The tourism chief said there is no reason to stop flights from Hong Kong from entering the country because the government has already undertaken measures to prevent the spread of SARS in the country. Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) general manager Edgardo Manda is set to meet with airport officials in China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region so that travelers and overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong can be screened there before they travel to the Philippines. As long as tourists from Hong Kong and other SARS-infected areas can present certificates of clean bills of health, they will be allowed to enter the country, Gordon said. Meanwhile, Gordon said, the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) is expected to ratify a resolution addressing the SARS problem in the region. PATA members, he said, are set to discuss the SARS issue at their annual meeting in Bali, Indonesia. Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL)confirmed that there is indeed a drop in passenger load from Manila to Hong Kong due to the SARS outbreak. "Yes, we could say that," said Rolando Estabillo, PAL vice president for corporate communications, when asked if the drop in passenger volume could be attributed to SARS. Estabillo confirmed that one PAL flight, PR 318, a Manila-Hong-Kong daily flight, was canceled since April 4 due to the decrease in passenger volume. The flight cancellation is just temporary, Estabillo said, adding that PAL intends to resume the flight after April 15. He added that the drop in the passenger load also triggered the downgrading of some PAL aircraft bound for Hong Kong. PAL still maintains three daily flights to Hong Kong: PR 300 departing at 8 a.m.; PR 306 departing at 2:50 p.m.; and PR 310 departing at 6 p.m. "The cancellation is not total," he said. "There are still a lot of OFWs leaving for Hong Kong."
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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