Tourism hygiene disquiet

by Russell Blackstock ,  www.scene.co.nz | 2008-10-23

The Ministry of Health may have difficulty with the tourism industry on new group-tour hygiene standards stemming from Queenstown’s hepatitis-A scare in May.

Recommendations drafted by Public Health South and presented to MoH have been obtained by Mountain Scene.

The tough new proposals follow in the wake of a series of medical bloopers that came to light after a Korean waitress working at the resort’s Copthorne Hotel contracted the contagious disease.

When the scare was over, it emerged that dozy Queenstown doctors had left the 21-year-old hepatitis-A carrier on the loose for 10 days without alerting public health authorities.

If taken up, the new PHS measures will have major effects on coach companies and associated group-tour hotels.

The document states there’s presently no regulation for coach firms or hotels to notify public health officials of a suspected outbreak of gastroenteritis – but that may change.

It also suggests if anyone’s sick on a coach then drivers should pull over and put on a disposable apron, foot covers, gloves and masks before cleaning up.

These items, along with a lengthy list of other cleaning equipment, would have to be stored on board.

Coach company staff would also be required to complete "outbreak monitoring forms" when passengers fall ill.

Hotels could also be asked to provide separate check-in and check-out areas for sick people and buffet meals should be replaced with hot meals served by staff during outbreaks of illness.

Sick guests should also be discouraged from leaving their hotel room until 24 hours after recovery.

But Auckland-based Andrew Ritchie, boss of New Zealand’s second-biggest tour coach provider Ritchies Transport Holdings, is baffled.

"It sounds like bureaucracy gone completely mad," he says. "If we had to do all that, I would just exit the business.

“We want a clean and healthy environment for our passengers and drivers but it’s got to be practical and at a reasonable cost.

"Our drivers aren’t doctors and it sounds like we’d have to put a nurse on board every bus."

Raewyn Bleakley, head of the Bus & Coach Association of New Zealand, is also cautious.

"We will welcome the opportunity to be involved in consultation around practicable and effective ways of overcoming the issues highlighted by the outbreak in Queenstown, but would be concerned with any measures that would be too onerous."



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