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Swine flu spreads, India falters

delhi Updated: Apr 29, 2009 01:27 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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Within 24 hours, the swine flu death toll in Mexico climbed to 152, putting Indian holiday plans in jeopardy and forcing many frequent fliers to choose conference calls over business travel.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) has not advised restrictions on food (eating pork) or international travel, it has asked all people with flu symptoms travelling through affected countries (see box) to get tested and treated.

Swine flu symptoms include fever, lack of appetite, cough, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

The advisories are expected to affect outbound travel to Europe and US.

“Governments have started issuing advisories and travellers are being asked to take adequate precautions. There could be an estimated 20 per cent fall in overseas travel if infection spreads across continents,” said H.K. Singh, general secretary, Travel Agents Association of India.

Though an advisory has been issued in India, a reality check of the government’s contingency plan showed that nothing is in place at Delhi and Mumbai airports that get the maximum flights from affected countries.

On Monday afternoon, the health ministry announced its travel advisory.

Airport authorities in Delhi were asked to put up health counters late on Tuesday evening. "We haven't got a notification from the health ministry on steps to be taken. We did get a call asking us to set up eight special counters to screen passengers on flights from Mexico, US and Canada from Tuesday midnight," said a Delhi International Airports Limited spokesman.

The health ministry had announced they would assign 32 health officials to Delhi airport and a similar number to Mumbai, who would work in four shifts in groups of eight.

Airlines, however, have still not been informed. "Usually travel advisories are issued by the WHO, but we have not heard from them or the Indian government," the Air India spokesperson told HT.

The situation is no better at Chhattrapati Shivaji International Airport, with the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) being asked to provide only three counters at the country's busiest airport. "We have been asked to provide facilities by Wednesday noon. They may start screening in the afternoon," said an MIAL spokesperson.

Checking every passenger for symptoms could result in delays and long queues at immigration, fear airport officials. "These counters are located before the immigration counters. It could cause chaos," said an airport official requesting anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

With Samiran Saha in New Delhi and Soubhik Mitra in Mumbai.