We thought it time we said something about the swine flu in Mexico. First let’s deal with the current situation in Playa del Carmen as we know it.
As of this morning there have been no reported cases of swine flu in Playa del Carmen or in the larger area of Quintana Roo, the state in which Playa del Carmen, Cancun and Tulum reside. In fact, to our knowledge, there have been no reported cases of swine flu in the entire Yucatan peninsula, comprising the eastern portion of the country of Mexico. This somewhat contradicts the statement of a so-called medical expert on MSNBC TV last night who proclaimed with wild eyes that the virus had “spread through the entire country of Mexico.”
Playa del Carmen itself is calm, except for the kids who seem to be everywhere today. Mexico in its wisdom has closed all of the schools nationwide until next Wednesday. As a result, the kids have a holiday and are making the best use of it. Kinda like snow days we remember from our own childhood.
There are no other closings or restrictions to our knowledge. Stores and restaurants, clubs and tours, business offices and governmental buildings are all open for business. We haven’t seen anyone wearing a mask. There is no sense of hysteria or even anxiety about this. The main concern is how the economy will react to the sudden drop in tourism, since so many people earn their living from that industry.
We were disappointed to see the travel advisory put out by the Centers for Disease Control suggesting that non-essential travel to Mexico be curtailed. We appreciate the CDC and Homeland Security are doing their jobs, and we applaud them for it. However, the travel restriction seems to have more political foundation than health concern. There is an advisory against traveling anywhere in Mexico, not just the areas which have reported cases of swine flu, which is primarily Mexico City. While the US government is advising individuals not to travel to Mexico, there are no advisories against travel witihin the US, despite the fact that there are a number of swine flu cases there over a broader geographical area. And of course, when India, China and the European Union advises its citizens not to travel to the US, our government responds” ‘that’s not necessary.’ As we say, there is a lot of political emphasis here as the different countries weigh in on this issue.
Above the fray of nationalized attitudes, the World Health Organization has taken a different tact. The World Health Organization says that restriction on travel will have absolutely no affect whatsoever in controlling or eliminating this disease. According to the most recent WHO travel updates on swine flu, “WHO does not recommend to restrict international travel. As usual it is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention.”
Concern in this situation is legitimate and a natural response, but hysteria is not, and hysteria seems to be building, primarily through an overabundance of sensationalized news coverage. There is a difference between reporting the facts and creating a sense of overwhelming danger and impending doom. The other night FOX News led its evening broadcast with a split screen showing Mexico City on one side and the disaster movie Outbreak on the other!
But FOX is not alone in its overhype of this situation as a medical disaster. And that’s not just our opinion. “Of course we’re doing too much to scare people,” said Mark Feldstein, a former correspondent for NBC, ABC and CNN who teaches journalism at George Washington University. “Cable news has 24 hours to fill, and there isn’t 24 hours of exciting news going on. If you scare people, they’ll tune in more.” This quote comes from an excellent article by Howard Kurtz in today’s Washington Post. You can find it here.
Another good article can be found on MSNBC.com from David Whelan of Forbes.com. Mr. Whelan makes the point: “Hysteria and exotic-sounding disease outbreaks go hand in hand. Whether it’s anthrax, mad cow disease, foot-and-mouth disease, bird flu or, going back to the 1990s, ebola—news of an outbreak generates fear that’s disproportionate to the risk of catching the disease. In each of these cases deaths, if they occurred at all, were minimal.” He also goes on to say, “…in every year this decade—between 30,000 and 50,000 American deaths were recorded from complications related to the seasonal flu. Another 40,000 people died in automobile accidents. And each year, gunshot wounds account for 30,000 deaths, around 4,000 people drown while swimming or boating and 60 people die from lightning strikes.”
This is not to say that people should not be concerned. They should. This is a health issue they should pay attention to. But at this point in time, we have a virus that has been reported in only 65 people in the US (according to the CDC official report) . There have been no fatalities and only one hospitalization, and all seem to be on the road to recovery. There have been deaths in Mexico City, but only 20 have been conclusively linked to swine flu at this time. In a city of 22 million.
So we are suggesting some perspective and some calm. If you’re worried and don’t wish to travel at this time, that is obviously your choice. If you are canceling an existing reservation with a hotel, an airline or a travel agent, you should contact them immediately to see what your options are. Truthfully, most will tell you that you have no options and will forfeit your deposit. The reason for that is simple. They have no more control over medical circumstances and governmental advisories than you do. Trust us, your cancellation will cost them much more money than your forfeited deposit will cost you. They will still have to pay their employees, pay their overhead expenses and try and continue their business. We know this from personal experience. However, it never hurts to ask, and some businesses in the travel industry are creating some alternative plans for people who are wishing to change or delay their travel. Of course, this is another reason we always recommend people purchase travel insurance.
At our own Luna Blue Hotel, we have had some cancellations, some delays, and a number of new reservations for the upcoming weeks. We are certainly not in a position to tell people they should or should not travel during this time. But we are informing people that in our opinion travel to Playa del Carmen is safe, and we continue to accept and honor reservations. We’re trying to be understanding of our guests’ situations at this time, and so we have modified our cancellation policy to allow guests to change their reservations if they want to come later in the summer.
If you’re planning a trip to Playa del Carmen now or in the near future, we hope this has been of some help. Despite all the hype and fear, the Caribbean Sea is still a beautiful blue, and the skies are sunny. And if you are going to be in town the 5th of May, don’t miss our blowout Cinco de Mayo party at the Luna Blue Bar.
For more recent information on this topic, Playa is Open for Business…Still No Flu in Sight.
Read our most current blog entry about safety:
Safety in Playa del Carmen Mexico ~ 2012
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