Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baja Bashing…Again

Cruise ships like this were missed in all of the Mexican Ports of Call including Cabo San Lucas

If the “Swine Flu” pandemic was made into a movie, it would be brought to you by the same folks who brought you the wildly popular, “Drug War Next Door”. The press has lumped Baja into the same category as Mexico City, and instilled fear in travelers.

One has only to turn on the news to hear that the recent outbreak of Swine Flu has a frightening worldwide impact. Precautions are recommended by the medical community, health officials, and even the President of the United States.

However, like the reported “Drug War Next Door”, information cannot be accepted at face value but must be carefully reviewed.

The outbreak began in greater Mexico City, where the population exceeds 22 million people, making it the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere and the second largest in the world by population. Located at an altitude of 7,500 feet, unfortunately the cooler nights and hot days make it the ideal environment for the disease to flourish.

However, as with the “Drug War Next Door”, the reporting of the news of the outbreak has been painted with a broad brush which includes the entire country…not just the Greater Mexico City area.

Once again, Baja residents and businesses have found themselves in the middle of a crisis by association, not by fact. It doesn’t matter that not one case of the flu has been reported on the Baja Peninsula at this point in time. From Ensenada to the tip of Baja, the results have been swift. Travel plans have been changed, reservations have been cancelled and the numbers of springtime visitors have diminished. Cities, towns and villages alike have literally become ghost towns.

Because of concerns relating to the swine flu, Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines representatives stated that the ships have been rerouted to avoid Mexican ports. The economic impact of the loss of nearly 6.5 million passengers (in 2008), could be a major blow to Mexico (Baja), already suffering economically. Losing a luxury ship like the Sapphire Princess which holds 2,600 passengers in 750 cabins, with a stop scheduled in Puerto Vallarta, followed by ports of call in Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas later the the week, is devastating.

Jonathan Roldan, owner of Tailhunter International in La Paz, reported, “We have been on the phones and internet constantly to answer questions and re-assure our folks that everything is fine. Like the issues of violence in Mexico, the media has used the same paintbrush to color the whole country. As of this time, there has not been a single case reported in the state of Baja Sur. There are more cases in California than in La Paz!”

Clicerio Mercado, Tournament Coordinator, reported that the Second Annual International Governor’s Cup Tournament scheduled for early May, has been postponed to a later date due to the reported outbreak.

To put the swine flu in perspective: The regular seasonal flu has killed more than 13,000 people in the U.S. alone since January, and kills between 250,000 and 500,000 worldwide annually. As of May 1,, 2009, the swine flu virus has infected 331 cases in 11 countries.

The H1N1 Virus seems to have attracted an extraordinary amount of attention by the press, which in itself is interesting, since no one has suggested that the outbreak of this virus will be of apocalyptic proportions.

The World Health Organization raised its alert level to phase five (out of six) this week, indicating a pandemic was imminent. It did so because of evidence that the virus had been transmitted from person to person in Mexico and the U.S. (and in one case, in Spain). The virus could spread or it could peter out – the next few weeks will tell.

It would appear that once again Baja took a bashing by a press corps that was more interested in the sensationalism then reporting the actual facts that Baja thus far has remained Swine Flu free.