China Southern pandering to public panic over flu No airline should be more experienced in dealing with disease outbreaks than China Southern Airlines. China Southern's hometown of Guangzhou was at the epicentre of the 2003 Sars outbreak, which eventually crossed the border into Hong Kong and proceeded to spread sporadically around the globe. But China Southern's recent move to take pork off its inflight dining menu suggests the airline is ignorant of some key facts or, perhaps worse, is pandering to public panic over pig flu. The pork ban was 'part of nationwide efforts to prevent an outbreak of swine flu', Bloomberg cited a statement from the airline as saying yesterday. The agency further noted that the move 'may also help limit the impact of swine flu on air-travel demand'. Now, China Southern's move would seem to suggest that eating pork is less than safe. That is not true. Consider this Q&A on swine influenza, taken from the website of the World Health Organisation: Q: Is it safe to eat pork and pork products? A: Yes. Swine influenza has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork (pig meat) or other products derived from pigs. The virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 160?F/70?C, corresponding to the general guidance for the preparation of pork and other meat. Now, given the facts, we reckon there are three main possible explanations for China Southern's pork ban: 1. The airline didn't realise that pork is safe to eat. 2. The airline's decision wasn't motivated by the safety of eating pork, but rather was a response to a growing panic (however irrational or misinformed) among potential passengers over pig flu. 3. China Southern was serving raw pork (we reckon it is highly doubtful that pig sushi was on the inflight menu). Of course, the airline is hardly alone in stumbling to react to the outbreak. Hong Kong and mainland companies that should have learned valuable lessons six years ago during Sars are bound to repeat some of the same mistakes in the coming days and/or weeks. They should consider their public responses carefully. Panic is irrational by nature and feeds on misinformation. Responding to panic tends to generate more panic and is different from responding to the facts of a problem, in this case a disease outbreak. The lesson of Sars was that a lack of timely and true information (or, as was the case then, an outright cover-up) can exacerbate public fears over an outbreak. But it's also dangerous to respond to fear instead of facts. PCCW boss' pay rises 10.7pc Despite PCCW recording a 15 per cent fall in net profit last year, group managing director Alex Arena still enjoyed a 10.7 per cent pay rise. According to the company's annual report, Mr Arena, who was promoted to the top job in 2007, saw his basic salary and allowances climb to HK$18.75 million last year, up from HK$16.93 million a year earlier. However, Mr Arena was not entitled to any bonus last year. He received HK$8.5 million for 2007. That wasn't the case for Robert Lee Chi-hong, the chief executive at PCCW's property arm, Pacific Century Premium Developments, who got a bonus of HK$18.34 million last year - down from HK$19.85 million in 2007 - on top of his annual salary of HK$11 million. Fellow director Mico Chung Chor-yee, head of mergers and acquisitions, also received a bonus for last year, but his HK$3 million was a sharp drop from the HK$13 million he was paid a year earlier. 'Without any signs of the economy reversing the present downward trend, operators in Hong Kong's highly competitive telecommunications market are expected to be under continuous challenges in the year ahead,' Richard Li Tzar-kai wrote in his chairman's report. He can say that again as we await the explanation of the three Court of Appeal judges for blocking the PCCW privatisation last week. Meanwhile, small shareholders should mark June 26 on their calendars. That's the date of PCCW's annual general meeting, when no doubt they will want to say a few things about recent events ... and enjoy their usual lunchbox.