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SARS fears hits as liner pulls into Naha

Date Posted: 2003-05-17

SARS fears hit directly home as the large cruise liner Star Gemini pulled into Naha Port Monday, on its regular route from Taipei to Ishigaki and Naha. The World Health Organization had just declared Taipei one of the areas that should be avoided because of the SARS epidemic.

The arrival of the Malaysia-based ship unnerved officials at Naha City Office and Okinawa Hotel Association, who declared that they did not want to accept visitors from Taipei until WHO announced that the area was safe again.

All 200 passengers and crew on the ship were subjected to a health check before they were allowed to enter Naha, and that caused some confusion among the visitors. The check was mandated by the new regulations that had been adopted the same day.

The same day, Naha officials had contacted Star Cruises Okinawa Office explaining the new policy and asked for their understanding. “We do not have SARS cases in Okinawa and we need to make sure that the situation will stay that way. We urge Star Cruises to understand this and ask that they do their utmost to cooperate with us,” an official at the newly created Okinawa SARS Prevention Committee said.

Miki Matsudo, the president of Star Cruises Okinawa Office said that he understood. “We understand the concerns of Naha City and Okinawa Prefecture, and will naturally respect their decisions,” Matsudo said.

However, Sino Okinawan Cultural & Economic Association Okinawa Office Representative Cheeney H.C. Hwang was not as understanding. “This is too much, I think officials are over-reacting. It gives Okinawa a bad name and no one wants to come from Taipei to Okinawa. This will definitely diminish the number of visitors in the future,” Hwang said.

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