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This story is from our network Source: AAP

Killer flu 'as big a threat as war'

March 28, 2003

THE mysterious deadly respiratory disease sweeping Australia is almost as big a threat to tourism in Australia as the war in Iraq, federal Tourism Minister Joe Hockey has warned.

The World Health Organization has urged screening of international passengers at airports for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)when leaving the U.S.

The United States plans to warn travellers and cut back visits to Australia because of the flu-like illness.

Mr Hockey said the outbreak, which has claimed 53 lives and made 1,408 people ill, was being closely monitored by Australia.

"The potential threat of pneumonia throughout Australia is a very significant threat to the tourism industry - almost as much as a potential war with Iraq," he said on the Gold Coast.

"We continue to very closely watch the spread of that pneumonia.

"Australia remains quarantined, not allowing any tourists to travel in the country at this time."

A market snapshot complied by the Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) has found widespread concern over SARS.

The ATC noted a SARS link with a drop in outbound travel from the United States to Australia.

The Australian government was urging its citizens not to travel internationally due to the SARS outbreak.

Australia's Ministry of Education has also advised the postponement of all overseas school excursions until further notice due to the Iraq war and SARS outbreak.

Qantas today announced flight reductions to Europe and Los Angeles after revealing bookings had been adversely affected by the war in Iraq and the outbreak of SARS.

Major tourism wholesaler Helen Wong, who takes tours to Australia, said she had noticed some concern over SARS among Americans travelling overseas. "There are people concerned and we have received a lot of cancellations," said Ms Wong, who is the managing director of Helen Wong Travel.

"In Australia the affected area is near where tourists normally travel to.

"I really think it's a world problem and people are watching us and we are watching them."

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