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'SARS' like virus may return to haunt Indian travel industry

MERS,originating from south-east Asia, has already claimed close to 90 lives

Ruchika Chitravanshi  |  New Delhi 

The Indian travel industry is still in denial on the impact that Middle-Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) could have on tourism.

The disease, like SARS which had its origin in south-east Asia some years ago, has already claimed close to 90 lives.

SARS killed close to 1,000 worldwide and caused a financial loss of around $1 billion to Singapore alone in 2003.

The travel business is still waiting and watching before ringing the alarm bell for tourists bound for West Asia. The sector claims the number of visitors coming into India from West Asia has also not dropped due to MERS. The industry take is linked to what the World Health Organization (WHO) is maintaining. In a statement, WHO said that it “does not advise special screening at points of entry with regard to this event, nor does it currently recommend the application of any travel or trade restrictions”.

However, travel companies are learnt to have started their own risk assessment of the situation. They are waiting for health ministry guidelines on the matter.

India receives around 300,000 tourists from West Asian countries including Qatar, Bahrain, Dubai, Turkey, etc. A large number of outbound tourists are also weighing the health risk associated with such travel plans.

“Customer care and safety continue to be our top priority at Thomas Cook India. Our teams work in close coordination with government and health authorities, and we await their advisory,” said Madhavan Menon, managing director, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.

The health ministry recently advised the state governments to keep a tab on symptoms of the disease cropping up.

Believed to be a slowly spreading virus, MERS attacks the respiratory system and kidneys. However, the health ministry has not issued any travel advisory. Since the origin of the disease is in West Asia, states would monitor those who are travelling to the affected countries such as Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (origin), the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia.

This year, about 145,000 Haj travellers are expected to travel to Saudi Arabia from India. Haj tour operators are also watching the developments closely.

An official of A-One Tours, an authorised Haj travel agent, said: “We are waiting for instructions from the government if any vaccination needs to be done. We hope some clarity will emerge on this issue by August-September.”

First Published: Tue, July 23 2013. 00:38 IST