HEALTH WATCH

SARS Fears Increase

How can travelers protect against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome?

Don't go to Hong Kong or the Guangdong Province of China, the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week, in its first such alert ever.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control's advice is more drastic: It adds all of China, Singapore and Hanoi to its "don't go unless necessary" list. Canadian officials add Taiwan, and the Australian Department of Health adds Canada's Ontario Province.

You could drop all pretense of cool and wear a mask. You could also wipe down surfaces you might touch.

Medical and industry officials initially pooh-poohed the notion that the virus could be transmitted on planes. But WHO officials now say travelers within two rows of an infected person could be in a danger zone.

Airlines are responding in various ways. Many pilots on Cathay Pacific flights are increasing fresh-air circulation on flights. Continental is giving flight attendants masks for travelers who seem sick, and check-in agents in Hong Kong and Tokyo are referring travelers who cough or seem sick to an airport medical clinic for examination.

Northwest attendants are using surgical gloves to handle trash from people who seem sick, and in parts of Asia, passengers who look ill at check-in are being sent to clinics. If a person with SARS symptoms does get on board, employees are supposed to give them a mask, isolate them and close restrooms they have used.

The Association of Flight Attendants is asking carriers to provide crews with masks and rubber gloves. So far, airline officials' responses are mixed.

Most countries have implemented strict screening procedures for travelers departing and arriving from infected areas. According to iJet Travel Intelligence, a private travel security firm, passengers to and from Southeast Asia should expect delays for medical screening. And if you have fever or respiratory problems, be prepared for quarantine.

Most airlines are allowing customers with tickets to some parts of Asia to postpone travel without penalty. United, for example, was being flexible about travel to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore. Some tour operators are canceling trips to parts of Asia and giving refunds, but as of yet, there is no general rule of thumb.

One thing is sure: Travel insurance policies will not cover your losses if you cancel a trip due to fear of SARS.

Cruise news

Deals on Deck

Concerns about war and a number of new ships have created deals normally not seen during the industry's busiest season.

Carnival, for example, is offering three and four-night Bahamas sailings from $199 per person, and five-day Western Caribbean sailings starting at $249 per person. Internet cruise seller Travelocity.com is offering up to $200 off per cabin on already low prices on several Celebrity sailings to Alaska, the Southern Caribbean and a seven-night Pacific coastal cruise.

Some lines have changed itineraries, repositioning from Europe to the Caribbean for the summer. The resulting short lead time to fill seven-day Caribbean itineraries has caused Princess to sell inside cabins for as little a $449 per person on some sailings.

Meanwhile, many lines have instituted flexible cancellation policies. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, for example, are allowing guests to cancel Mediterranean cruises prior to May 1 for any reason and receive a 90 percent credit for a future cruise. Princess Cruise Line's special two-for-one promotion includes complimentary "cancel for any reason" insurance.

BARGAIN OF THE WEEK

Europe on Sale

1-800-Fly-Europe is offering spring specials to cities throughout Europe. Sample: Fly on American from Washington or Baltimore to London for $401 round trip, including all taxes. Depart no later than May 30 and return by June 15. Tickets must be purchased by April 14. Info: 800-FLY-EUROPE, www.1800flyeurope.com.

Reporting: Christine Koubek, Cindy Loose, Carol Sottili.

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