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