The number of foreign tourists arriving in Cambodia could fall by as much as half in the coming months if last week’s arrival numbers are an indication of a trend, Minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth said Monday.
Arrivals were down 40 percent between April 1 and Monday compared with the same seven-day period in 2002, the minister said. The drop is the result of the worldwide severe acute respiratory syndrome scare, an effect that will probably be long-lasting, he said.
“We have lost 40 percent of the industry and probably will lose more,” the minister said at a news conference with Ministry of Health officials, hoteliers, travel agents and airline officials.
“The SARS war is worse than the war on Iraq,” Veng Sereyvuth said. “People see travel itself as a dangerous game.”
Despite the grim forecast, the minister assured tourism officials that no SARS cases have been detected in Cambodia and that appropriate preventative measures are being taken to ensure that the threat of SARS remains small.
Ministry of Health General Director Dr Eng Huot said all travelers exhibiting symptoms of SARS would be quarantined at the airport and, if necessary, sent to Calmette Hospital.
“Medical staff [at the airport] have the right to do tests on sick travelers. If they refuse, officials will have to use some kind of coercion, not violence” to ensure that suspected patients do not leave the country or move unchecked throughout Cambodia, Veng Sereyvuth said.
A sick British woman was observed for SARS at Calmette this week, although she did not meet all of the World Health Organization’s criteria for the disease, said Dr Sovann Ly, vice chief of the Health Ministry’s Disease Prevention Bureau.
The unidentified woman, 56, was the first suspected SARS patient to be quarantined by the Health Ministry, Sovann Ly said.
The woman was in Hong Kong from March 24 to March 28, then flew through Thailand to Siem Reap, Sovann Ly said.
In Phnom Penh she stayed at Hotel Le Royal from April l until Friday, then traveled to Sihanoukville for three days. She was admitted to Calmette Sunday with a high fever and diarrhea. She showed no signs of respiratory discomfort, Sovann Ly said.
The woman was released Tuesday evening.
Raffle’s general manager, Stephan Gnaegi, would not comment on what measures the hotel was taking to ensure the health of its guests but said it is in close contact with the SOS Medical Center.
Many Cambodian hotels and airlines are reporting losses related to the SARS scare.
The Hotel Inter-Continental lost between $10,000 and $15,000 in room cancellations in the first week of the SARS outbreak, said front office manager Bobby Fajardo.
President Airlines postponed all three of the flights it runs between Hong Kong and Phnom Penh until November, an airline official said Tuesday.
And Dragon Air has reduced its flights between Hong Kong and Phnom Penh from four to two or three, said Dragon Air manager Alfred Sung. He said the reduction was for commercial reasons only and not for fear of SARS.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday in Kompong Cham province that he would pray to the New Year’s god Tepda to protect the Cambodian people from SARS.
Hun Sen reminded his audience that the world is no stranger to sickness.
In Britain, he said, mad cow disease was solved by killing thousands of cows. In Hong Kong, a chicken disease was cured by killing thousands of chickens. And in Malaysia, he said, thousands of pigs were slaughtered to stop the spread of a mad pig disease.
Being intentionally vague, Hun Sen said there still was no cure for the human disease SARS.