Nipah virus: Kerala districts wear deserted look as 2,000 kept under observation; businesses strained, NRIs stranded

Over 1,000 people have been kept under quarantine, public services severely affected, schools closed and examinations postponed due to the Nipah virus scare that has rocked Kerala and the rest of the country since May.

Representational image of people wearing safety masks as a precautionary measure after the 'Nipah' virus outbreak at Kozhikode Medical College in Kerala. PTI

Representational image of people wearing safety masks as a precautionary measure after the 'Nipah' virus outbreak at Kozhikode Medical College in Kerala. PTI

Ever since the first case was reported in Kerala, sixteen people have lost their lives in Kozhikode and Malappuram districts. All state government meetings scheduled to be held in the two districts in June have been postponed and several health staff, including four doctors and nurses who treated two Nipah-infected patients at the Balussery taluk hospital have been asked to go on leave.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) postponed all its written and online exams and new dates will be announced later. As a precautionary measure, residents in Kozhikode, Malappuram and Wayanad districts are remaining indoors and using protective masks when travelling.

Fear of being infected by the virus, which has a fatality rate of 70 percent, has also prompted the Thamarassery diocese, which oversees churches in Kozhikode and Malappuram revenue districts, to ask all churches to change century-old traditions on the way bread and wine are offered to congregations during Eucharistic Prayers and postpone religious classes, avoid marriages, housewarmings, family get-togethers and unnecessary travel.

As per custom, the head priest, after partaking of bread and wine, representing Jesus’ body and blood that is believed to be sacramentally present, invites the faithful to receive communion, usually by placing bread on their tongues. But in light of the Nipah outbreak, Mar Remigiose Inchananiyil, bishop of Thamarassery, said, “From now on, bread will not be placed on tongues. It will be given in the hand.”

“It’s a precautionary step. People are scared here. Nobody is going out. And those who are going out are using masks. People are worried a lot,” the bishop added. “In Kozhikode district, schools will remain closed till 12 June. People have been advised not to visit crowded areas and avoid public functions,” said District Collector UV Jose.

Massive losses

The Nipah outbreak has also caused massive losses for business outlets in and around the Kozhikode Medical College. “We can say that around 50 percent of our businesses are down. We are also afraid to keep our shops open,” said Mohammed Iqbal, a tea seller. “Bus stands are deserted. People are avoiding travel,” Iqbal added.

Prabeesh K, a resident of Perambara, where the virus was first detected, said the frequency of buses in the Vadakara-Perambra route has substantially decreased.

“There were around 45 buses plying the Vadakara-Perambra route, but now only about 12 buses are operational. Where around 65 buses were operational in the Kuttiadi route, now, there are only about 25,” said Prabeesh. Sources in state transport corporation said that on an average they are losing Rs 2 lakh per day from the Nipah-affected areas.

NRIs stranded

Several Non-resident Indians (NRIs) from Kozhikode and Malappuram districts living in Gulf states, who are on annual leave, have been forced to postpone their travel plans. Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait have issued travel advisories asking people to avoid travelling to Kerala.

“They are not encouraging anyone to travel to Kozhikode and Malappuram from the Gulf. We are also scared that if we visit home, we may be denied entry on our return,” said Vinod A, who works in Oman.

Travel agents based in Gulf countries said that several people have postponed their travel dates, with some opting to cancel. UAE has banned the import of vegetables from Kerala and news reports claim that Kuwait is mulling the same.

Several under observation

A senior official from the directorate of health services said around 2,000 people who interacted with Nipah-infected have been kept under observation and two persons who tested positive for the virus are stable and undergoing treatment at the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital.

Kerala health minister KK Shailaja told reporters the cause of death of a woman who was under observation for Nipah symptoms is yet to be ascertained. The directorate of health services official said the woman accompanied a patient to the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital, where a Nipah-affected person was being treated.

“After she fell ill, she was moved to the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital as she showed symptoms similar to that of the Nipah virus,” the official said.

The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup.

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Updated Date: Jun 03, 2018 15:20:37 IST

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