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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

State prepared for possible outbreak at rainforest fest

The state government is prepared for the possibility of an Influenza A (H1N1) outbreak at the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) this Friday to Sunday (July 10-12).

Tourism Assistant Minister Hamden Ahmad believed that RWMF, which would see an influx of foreigners to Sarawak’s shores, should not be a problem and called on all to have ‘faith’ in the government.

“It should not be a problem. We have been facing things like this in the past, for example, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and so I think we should be alright. Our state can handle it. Have faith in our state,” he told reporters yesterday.

Hamden said it wasn’t right to say that RWMF was a ‘time-bomb’ even though festival-goers would be coming from all parts of the world, including other affected countries.

He was commenting on the possibility that Sarawak could possibly see a surge in A (H1N1) cases after the festival.

The festival has been called a ‘ticking time-bomb’, as some are worried the state would not be able to handle the situation if an outbreak does occur.

Hamden assured that the state government was well-prepared to face such consequences, and stressed that the most important thing was for everyone to stay healthy and build up their immune systems.

He reasoned that as RWMF is an international festival on the tourism calendar, the state could not simply reschedule it.

With the festival still going ahead as planned, organiser the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) is working closely with the State Health Department to come up with measures to protect festival-goers as best as possible against the virus.

Recently, STB chief executive officer Gracie Geikie announced that the festival would have a mini-medical station at the festival as a precautionary step.

STB and the health department would also be distributing brochures on the virus to festival-goers so they would be fully aware of what to watch out for and how they could protect themselves from getting infected.

The board would also have free medical screenings for festival-goers and distribute surgical masks.

Apart from that, the particulars of festival-goers would also be recorded so that it would be easier to locate them if there was a need to.

According to Geikie, Santubong Resorts and Country Club, where the group of international media and festival performers would be staying at, would also have an in-house medical team to monitor the groups throughout the duration of the event.

Meanwhile, Sarawak Tourism Federation president Wee Hong Seng said that the federation and the Health Ministry would be holding a special briefing today (July 7) for over 20 hoteliers in the city.

He said the briefing would be on the A (H1N1) and what steps should they take in case of an occurrence.

He said on July 13, there would be a second briefing, this time for other tourism players like tour agents and those from the transport sector.

“This is just an effort from our part and the Health Ministry as a precautionary measure in view of the RWMF,” he said yesterday through the phone.

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