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Saipan local government conference missing 30 of 70\

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 14, 2009) – Nearly half of the 70 mayors who have signified their intention to join the 2nd Annual Pacific Mayor's Conference cancelled their trip to Saipan due to a "swine flu" scare.

Paul M. McDonald, president of the Association of Pacific Islands Local Government, expressed regret that 30 mayors, mostly from the Philippines, cancelled their trips at the last minute upon learning of a text message that has been circulating on Saipan since Tuesday afternoon about unconfirmed reports of cases of the dreaded H1N1 flu virus in Guam.

Rumors have it that three cases of confirmed H1N1 cases have surfaced in Guam. A staff of the Saipan Tribune's Editorial Department also received a text message saying two persons have been put on quarantine.

The CNMI Department of Public Health was quick to scotch this rumor, assuring yesterday that the there is no truth to this text message.

Pedro T. Untalan, DPH Deputy Secretary for Hospital Administration, said they immediately contacted the Emergency Operations Center in Guam Tuesday afternoon to verify the rumor and learned that the text message was a hoax.

"We were told that it had no merit. The rumor was circulated using the text messaging process and it spread like wildfire in Guam and the CNMI," Untalan said.

He explained that the CNMI DPH works closely with the Guam DPH and the Guam state level Emergency Operations Center in sharing critical and pertinent information about this issue.

A Pacific Daily News report yesterday said that Guam's Department of Public Health and Social Services is working with the Department of Defense in monitoring two people with flu-like symptoms. The individuals recently traveled from an area with confirmed cases.

Fewer delegates

The four-day Pacific mayors' conference kicks off at 6am today at the Hibiscus Hall of the Fiesta Resort and Spa Saipan.

Mcdonald, who is the Mayor of Agana Heights, Guam, said only 40 mayors are expected to join the event, including 12 from Guam. He said there were 19 Guam mayors who originally wanted to come but seven also cancelled at the last minute because of the flu scare.

He said a total of 75 delegates would come from Guam alone but the number could have been bigger if not for the H1N1 flu issue.

"It's unfortunate that we have this," said McDonald, who assured, however, that the event would push through despite several obstacles.

He said this would definitely lower the number of delegates, compared to the 300 who attended the first conference in Guam last year.

Some 33 mayors from four provinces in the Philippines, including 12 from Laguna, eight each from Batangas and Bulacan and five from Zambales, are expected to arrive today.

Another obstacle the Philippine delegates faced, McDonald said, was the longer trip and the more expensive airfare due to visa requirements.

He said U.S. Immigration does not allow non-U.S. visa holders to transit via Guam.

Most of the Philippine delegation went through Japan or Korea before arriving on Saipan, making for a costlier flight-about $800 instead of just $300 if they pass through Guam.

McDonald said some of the Philippine delegation who have U.S. visas will actually be coming from the U.S. mainland because they had just watched the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton fight in Las Vegas.

But he said that after arriving in Guam they could not be accommodated on the trip to Saipan due to the smaller planes of Freedom Air and Cape Air.

Saipan Tribune

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