Manila, April 16, 2003 (The Philippine Star 04/16/2003) Airports are empty and people are staying home, despite the most tempting vacation packages abroad ever offered. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the deadly pneumonia for which a cure has yet to be found, has devastated the international travel industry even as it continues to claim lives in several countries. The SARS scare has spooked people in ways far worse than the terror threat. In the worst hit countries, no anti-SARS measure seems paranoid or extreme.

The Philippines fortunately has been spared the worst of the killer disease, with only one "probable" case being reported and not one fatality confirmed. This hasnít stopped Filipinos, however, from canceling trips abroad, and from trying to keep out visitors from places that have been worst hit by SARS. Unable to keep out travelers from places such as Hong Kong, Philippine airport authorities are enforcing some offbeat measures: banning sneezing, talking and kissing in airport elevators, and even prohibiting spitting on the pavement in the immediate vicinity of the airport. It will be interesting to see how these measures will be enforced.

The SARS scare hasnít stopped Filipinos from embarking on their annual Holy Week vacation within the country, although some people skipped any trip requiring a plane ride. This year the annual exodus to vacation spots and places outside Metro Manila requires a high state of security alert. The war in Iraq is over, but the terrorist fallout from the conflict could be felt for years to come. Even before the start of the war, security officials had already warned of possible terrorist sympathy attacks. There could be some basis for the warning, or there could be people who might want to capitalize on it to destabilize the government.

In a little over a month terrorists have bombed the international airport and a busy wharf in Davao City, killing scores of people. There have been terrorist attacks in crowded areas in other parts of the country. People embarking on their annual Holy Week vacation trips would provide tempting targets for evil minds. Authorities must take no chances and enforce the tightest security measures to protect lives.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved