FLU ALERT! Saint Lu­cians urged to “Be Pre­pared ahead of Flu Sea­son”

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

OCALL FOR LIAT HEADS TO GO!ne of the old­est air­lines in the Caribbean, LIAT (es­tab­lished in 1956) is one of the more rec­og­niz­able Caribbean brands. But un­like other rec­og­niz­able re­gional brands like say An­gos­tura, San­dals and Grace, LIAT’s recog­ni­tion has lit­tle to do with suc­cess. In fact, year af­ter year the air­line has reg­is­tered ma­jor fi­nan­cial losses.

The topic of LIAT has also been dis­cussed at ma­jor CARICOM and CTO meet­ings, yet a suc­cess­ful model plan for the air­line has never been ar­rived at. Over the years, var­i­ous is­land share­hold­ers have con­sis­tently bailed LIAT out of its fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties us­ing tax­pay­ers’ money.

A CTO study in 2007 re­vealed that Caribbean travel trends showed that mul­ti­des­ti­na­tion and in­tra-re­gional tourism was by and large un­der­ex­ploited and un­der-de­vel­oped. The study also de­scribed as “dis­mal” the fi­nan­cial per­for­mance of re­gional air­lines.

Amidst all of this a re­gional tourism en­tre­pre­neur be­lieves that it is time for all the talk­ing over LIAT to end and a plan of ac­tion be im­ple­mented. His name is Robert Pitcher, the Direc­tor of “Sun ‘n Fun” pub­lish­ing which hosts eigh­teen com­mer­cial web­sites in­clud­ing Caribbeantrav­eller.com. Pitcher has been on a cru­sade over the last few years for the LIAT fi­nan­cial de­ba­cle to end. How­ever, he is quick to point out that he does not want the air­line to go out of busi­ness. “Af­ter all, I am a cus­tomer and a share­holder of LIAT by virtue of the fact that Bar­ba­dos, where I am from, is a share­holder us­ing tax­pay­ers’ money to fund this air­line,” Pitcher con­tends.

“LIAT has been a prob­lem for the last 59 years. Never made money, but it is un­der­stood in this day and age that LIAT is re­ally de­signed to trans­port the peo­ple of the Caribbean from one is­land to the next at an af­ford­able cost, not re­ally to make a big profit like the ma­jor air­lines, but also not to lose money and cause the tax­pay­ers of th­ese coun­tries to pay high costs of travel,” Pitcher said in an in­ter­view with the STAR.

As tax­pay­ers, he says the peo­ple of the re­gion need to be in­formed as to how many air­craft LIAT owns, how many are leased and at what cost. Ac­cord­ing to Pitcher, “the four share­holder coun­tries have signed a guar­an­tee, to the tune of US$110 mil­lion, to en­sure new ATRs came on stream, and we are still un­sure of what we got for that.”

He goes on fur­ther to say that above all of this, the high cost of travel in the re­gion is a worry to most. “I can now leave Bar­ba­dos and travel to Toronto for about US$450 and that would be cheaper than fly­ing from Bar­ba­dos to An­tigua which would be more than US$500,” the pub­lisher ex­plains. “The cost of the tick­et­ing is not what is re­ally costly; it is the high tax­a­tion that all the gov­ern­ments have placed on the tick­ets,” he adds. “So we need to ask gov­ern­ment to re­duce th­ese high taxes; they must do it. If not, we will find our peo­ple mi­grat­ing to for­eign ter­ri­to­ries and in­tra-re­gional travel will con­tinue to decline.”

Ac­cord­ing to Pitcher, the Min­is­ter of Tourism in Bar­ba­dos re­cently stated that the Caribbean was the third source mar­ket for Bar­ba­dos. Pitcher has de­bunked her fig­ures of about ten per­cent, but also says that had it not been for the pres­ence of the US em­bassy in Bar­ba­dos that fig­ure would have been maybe three per­cent. “What you have are per­sons from the is­lands com­ing to Bar­ba­dos to ob­tain visas to go to the United States, they are not com­ing be­cause they want to come on a hol­i­day,” he charged.

Robert Pitcher be­lieves that it is time for the share­holder gov­ern­ments to act and to get rid of the en­tire LIAT board. “If you keep do­ing the same thing year af­ter year, you would get the same re­sult. And if the head is bad then the body can­not func­tion,” Pitcher says.

Re­cently there were calls by the prime min­is­ter of St. Vin­cent, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves for other re­gional gov­ern­ments to back LIAT or face be­ing boy­cotted by the air­line. De­scrib­ing the state­ment as fool­ish­ness Pitcher says; “My ad­vice to the three doc­tors: Dr. An­thony, Dr. Gonsalves, Dr. Dou­glas, would be do not put one cent of tax­pay­ers’ money into LIAT un­til the man­age­ment struc­ture changes.”

“Re­cently the man­age­ment spoke of re­duc­ing staff by 20 per­cent. How many of those per­sons would be mid­dle man­age­ment?” he ques­tions.

Robert Pitcher told the STAR that he did not wish to see LIAT go out of busi­ness but sim­ply wanted to see the air­line re­mod­eled into a bet­ter

Sea­sonal in­fluenza af­fects many thou­sands of peo­ple in the Caribbean each year and, as the 2015 sea­son ap­proaches, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is urg­ing per­sons to prac­tise good per­sonal hy­giene in or­der to re­duce the risk of trans­mis­sion of in­fluenza and other re­s­pi­ra­tory viruses. Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor, CARPHA, Dr C. James Hospedales, states that the “pri­mary form of in­fluenza trans­mis­sion is through in­ter­per­sonal con­tact.” He adds that “given en­tity and not run by heads he de­scribed as have lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence. Flight sched­ul­ing is also some­thing he said needs to be looked at closely in con­sul­ta­tion with staff who el­e­vated flu ac­tiv­ity in the United States, com­bined with the high travel sea­son to the Caribbean, it is im­por­tant that per­sons take the nec­es­sary steps now, to pro­tect them­selves and their loved ones from the flu.”

CARPHA is ad­vis­ing that per­sons prac­tise good hy­giene mea­sures which in­clude: • Cov­er­ing your mouth with a tis­sue or hand­ker­chief, or us­ing your el­bow, when sneez­ing or cough­ing • Safely dis­pos­ing of used tis­sues • Wash­ing your hands with know the num­bers as well as a statis­ti­cian.

“I have great re­spect for LIAT’s staff and the air­line’s safety record,” he says. “The ex­per­tise of the ground staff soap and wa­ter af­ter cough­ing and sneez­ing and be­fore and af­ter meal prepa­ra­tion, eat­ing and us­ing the toi­lets.

How­ever, the most ef­fec­tive way to pre­vent the dis­ease or se­vere out­comes from the ill­ness is vac­ci­na­tion. Safe and ef­fec­tive vac­cines have been avail­able and used for more than 60 years. Among healthy adults, in­fluenza vac­cine can pre­vent 70% to 90% of in­fluenza-spe­cific ill­ness.

Among the el­derly, the vac­cine re­duces se­vere ill­nesses and com­pli­ca­tions by up to 60%, and deaths by 80%. Vac­ci­na­tion is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for peo­ple at higher risk of se­ri­ous in­fluenza com­pli­ca­tions, and for peo­ple who live with or care for high risk in­di­vid­u­als.

Sea­sonal in­fluenza is char­ac­ter­ized by a sud­den on­set of high fever, cough (usu­ally dry), headache, mus­cle and joint pain, se­vere malaise (feel­ing un­well), sore throat and runny nose. Most peo­ple re­cover from fever and other symptoms within a week with­out re­quir­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

Bar­ba­dian Busi­ness­man Robert Pitcher stopped by the STAR last week to ex­press some strong sen­ti­ments about the di­rec­tion he thinks LIAT should take if

it is to suc­ceed.

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