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London Lays Out the Welcome Mat
- Officials sent to US to say capital is unaffected by foot and mouth

NEW estimates on the timing of the peak of Britain's foot and mouth epidemic may stretch until July but visitors to London need not worry.

Tourist chiefs and the British government are concerned that an impression of a country on the verge of breakdown has been projected across the world with many would-be travellers under the misapprehension that foot and mouth disease can be caught by humans or that it represents a food safety problem.

Neither scare is true. More than that, London and virtually all urban areas in the UK have been almost completely unaffected by the outbreak. However, flight sales and hotel bookings are reported as on the decline in London as foreign visitors react with horror to the TV news scenes of thousands of hoofed animals being burned in huge funeral pyres.

Government tourist officials have now been sent to the US to try to assuage the understanderble fears of travellers and London's Mayor Ken Livngstone has this week helped to make the case for tourists to keep faith with his, and our, city. One source drew a comparison that might help illuminate the whole issue. "When there's a hurricane in Florida, people still visit New York without worrying that their hotel will be blown away," the tourist spokesperson said. "Similarly, some parts of the British countryside might have been hit hard by foot and mouth, but all the things you've always come to expect from London - the heritage, culture and the frankly annoyingly changeable weather - are all still alive and well."

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