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Virus hits UK Easter tourism

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Sign of the times: The word "No" is scrawled on this country road sign  

LONDON, England -- Attempts to help Britain's tourist industry recover from the foot-and-mouth crisis appear to be struggling, with reports that many people have cancelled holidays planned for the Easter break.

The epidemic is also affecting the tourist industry in the Republic of Ireland, with many visitors who would have passed through Britain cancelling their trips.

With the number of foot-and-mouth cases standing at 1,139, a survey carried out by NFU Countryside, an affiliate organisation to the National Farmers' Union, suggests that almost two-thirds of people who had intended to visit the British countryside have now changed their plans.

The possibility of seeing carcasses being burned on pyres had deterred many tourists, according to the survey of 500 people.

The organisation's head of membership, David Hellard, said the findings underlined just how hard the tourist industry would be hit over what is traditionally an extremely busy holiday period.

The news that thousands of British tourists are still being scared off by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth comes just days after UK Prime Minister Tony Blair launched an international media offensive to persuade the world that Britain was still a safe place to visit.

Blair hammered home his Britain is "open for business" message in interviews to the French, Japanese and U.S. media.

Virus tops EU ministers' talks

He also travelled to the northern county of Yorkshire as the government announced a £6 million tourism promotional campaign. There were also reports that ministers would be spending their annual holidays in Britain rather than heading abroad.

However, British newspapers are reporting that several local authorities across the country are not prepared to take any risks in the battle to stamp out the highly contagious disease.

According to the Times newspaper, more than 90 percent of footpaths and other access routes into the countryside are to remain shut.

It also predicts that thousands of rural businesses will be bankrupt within weeks, while the Financial Times says one in 10 pubs across Britain have been hit by the crisis.

Twenty pubs in the worst-affected regions of Cumbria in northwest England and Devon in the southwest have reportedly closed in the last few weeks.

In the Irish Republic, where there has been just one confirmed case of foot-and-mouth, there have been many cancellations from overseas visitors, with domestic tourism also badly hit.

John Brown, a spokesman for the Irish Tourist Board, told CNN there had been IR£200 million of cancellations and lost business to date, with further losses of up to IR£500 million expected between now and the end of August.

He said this would be the first downturn in the Irish tourism business in 13 years.

However, with the easing of restrictions over the last few weeks, a promotional campaign is now under way to reassure Britain and the rest of the world that the Republic is open for business.

But, Brown says, "as long as the crisis remains in Britain, the tourist industry in Ireland will suffer".

In the Netherlands, where there are now 17 confirmed cases of the disease, the effect on tourism has been minimal, with certain areas, including the National Park and zoos, closed only to people who have travelled from the UK or who have recently visited it.

Anouk Verhey, from the Netherlands Board of Tourism, told CNN there had been no domestic impact so far, although it was "too early to say".

In France there have been two confirmed cases, which have had very little effect on the tourist industry, said the French government's tourist office.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Virus tops EU ministers' talks
April 8, 2001
Blair drive to calm tourist fears
April 6, 2001
No let-up in UK virus controls
April 5, 2001
Disease delays UK local polls
April 2, 2001
British tourist industry counts foot-and-mouth cost
March 29, 2001

NFU Countryside
Foot-and-Mouth Disease
England Tourist Board
Ministry of Agriculture
Irish Tourist Board
Netherlands Board of Tourism
Holiday France
Tourism guide to France

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