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UN will seek action on travel restrictions

SECRETARY-GENERAL Ban Ki-moon said yesterday he will ask governments to reverse trade and travel restrictions unless they have a clear scientific basis, in an effort to ensure solidarity during global health crises like the current swine flu outbreak.

Dr. David Nabarro, the senior UN coordinator for influenza, said countries are required under the 2005 International Health Regulations to inform the World Health Organization of the public health rationale behind measures like China's detention of Mexican travelers over swine flu concerns.

"We want to be very clear that the World Health Organization is not recommending travel restrictions related to the outbreak of this novel influenza," Nabarro said, adding such restrictions were unlikely to prevent the spread of the disease while disrupting "the functioning of the world community."

Ban added the actions and measures a sovereign nation takes "should be based on scientific evidence as well as in accord with the international humanitarian regulations" and WHO guidelines.

Beijing instituted aggressive quarantine measures after a Mexican traveler flying to Hong Kong via Shanghai was diagnosed with the illness over the weekend. More than 70 Mexicans were quarantined in hotels and hospitals in Chinese mainland along with 29 Canadian students, their professor and several Americans.

Along with trying to reverse trade and travel restrictions, Ban said, he will be asking governments to agree on sharing samples of viral and other materials as well as data on outbreaks; to establish long-term financing mechanisms to help poorer countries build defenses against global health threats; and ensure that WHO has all necessary resources.

Ban said he will begin these discussions in Geneva later this month at the World Health Assembly.

"As previous pandemics in the 20th century showed, the situation can unfold in stages - what begins as mild in the first stage might be less so in the next," he said.


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