Travel and swine flu: US vice president stirs pot

May 1st, 2009 - 8:23 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Washington, May 1 (DPA) While countries debate whether it’s wise to travel to Mexico or the US because of swine flu outbreaks, US Vice President Joe Biden Thursday provoked an uproar with the most drastic suggestion: just stop flying.
Biden told the NBC Today Show that he wouldn’t fly anywhere right now or even get on a subway because it’s a confined area.

He was responding to a question about how he would advise family members this week who were planning to fly to Mexico.

In typical, straightforward fashion that has gotten him into trouble before, Biden quipped: “I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now.”

He said the problem was not the actual travel to Mexico, but the conditions of the travel.

“(If) you’re in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft,” Biden said, adding that was his personal opinion.

Outrage rained down from the travel and air transport industry over his remarks.

US leaders should “avoid such inflammatory comments,” a representative of the US Travel Association told CNN.

The Air Transport Association of America said Biden’s comments were “extremely disappointing.”

The airlines have been working daily with government agencies, none of whom suggest people avoid air travel, unless they are not feeling well. The fact is that the air onboard a commercial aircraft is cleaner than that in most public buildings,” said ATA president James May in a statement.

Biden’s spokesperson Elizabeth Alexander even issued a statement to calm the outcry, saying the vice president’s remarks were the same advice the Obama administration is giving to all Americans: “That they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico. If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public

spaces, such as subways.”

In fact, many of the H1N1 cases confirmed elsewhere in the world were linked to travellers who had returned from Mexico.

But European health ministers rejected a French proposal to ban all flights from the EU to Mexico, the source of the outbreak, saying that this would not be effective.

In the US, President Barack Obama rejected the idea of closing the border with Mexico as “akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out.”

On Wednesday, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said closing boarders would inflict “a very, very heavy cost for what epidemiologists tell us would be marginal benefit.” She was referring to the economic costs of locking down travel.

The US already has more than 100 confirmed cases and one death from the H1N1 virus. In Mexico, 159 people have died from influenza illness but not all are connected to the new virus.

Argentina and Peru have banned all flights to and from Mexico, while other countries like Japan have put into effect strict surveillance measures for passengers arriving from Mexico and other outbreak countries.

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