Nipah virus: Reeling Kerala tourism industry decries scaremongering by media, out-of-state competitors

Outbreak of viral epidemics, especially dengue fever, during the monsoon season have been a major concern of the Kerala tourism industry for more than a decade. The rare and deadly Nipah virus (NiH) has increased their worries even before the onset of monsoon, with reports about the virus attack in the national and international media triggering a scare among tourists.

Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry (CKTI) president EM Najeeb said travel bookings are being cancelled in the hundreds every day since reports of the death of three members of a family in Kozhikode district appeared in the media last week.

 Nipah virus: Reeling Kerala tourism industry decries scaremongering by media, out-of-state competitors

A well is being covered up as the Kerala government struggles to contain the deadly Nipah virus. Image courtesy Rejimon K

Though the virus is confined to the northern districts, the impact is felt in the entire state and across various sectors. Najeeb suspects the panic is being spread among tourists from the state’s competitors in and outside the country.

“They are projecting the virus attack in Kerala as an epidemic that is dangerous for visitors. This is wrong. The virus has affected only a few pockets in Kozhikode district. All tourist destinations, airports, railway stations and hotels are safe as usual for holiday activities”, Najeeb added. Najeeb told Firstpost people from other districts who have contracted the infection are those who came in contact with the infected either in the affected villages or hospitals.

Two people who died in the nearby Malappuram district contracted the infection from Kozhikode Medical College where they went to see their relatives. A majority of patients are being treated in the medical college. If foreign countries issue advisories against travelling to Kerala, it could have serious consequences for the tourism industry.

So far, only Bahrain in West Asia has issued such an advisory. The United Arab Emirates has only advised its citizens to take precautionary measures and follow instructions issued by the concerned Indian authorities.

Najeeb said if more Gulf countries issue advisories, it could also affect the non-resident Keralites working abroad. The NRKs who have returned on leave will be most hit since they may not be able to go back before the expiry of their leave or visa. “If the government machinery had risen up immediately after the first death was reported, the virus would not have wreaked this much damage. Sadly, the health authorities woken up only after the second death 12 days later”, Najeeb added.

Kozhikode district Congress committee president T Siddique said the blood or fluid samples of Sabith, who died in a government hospital on 5 May, were not even taken. The virus was detected only after the samples of his brother Swalih, who died at a private hospital on 17 May, were tested, Siddique claimed. “The family lost two more members after that. Most people, including a nurse who treated them, died after they came in contact with them. If the health authorities had taken timely action, lives of most of these people could have been saved and the state spared its impact”, the Congress leader said.

Siddique added the impact of the virus is being felt even in the social sphere. “People in the affected villages are being ostracised. Auto and taxi drivers are refusing to take them. They are also being isolated in public space, including places of worship”, he added. The nurses who are treating the affected people in various hospitals have also aired similar complaints. The nurses at the Perambara government hospital in Kozhikode, where some patients were treated, said they and their family members are being ostracised by the people in their localities.

Interestingly, the Perambara hospital is being avoided by the people of the area. The hospital, which used to be crowded with patients, now presents a deserted look. An NDTV report quoted a doctor in the hospital who said the number of outpatients has come down from 1,000 to 1,500 a day to just 100 since the outbreak. Kozhikode district medical officer V Jayshree said this was due to unnecessary fear among the people. She said the fear was due to exaggerated reports and spreading of unscientific statements and rumours on social media.

“We have already initiated action against those spreading falsehoods and rumours through Facebook and WhatsApp. We are now trying to create awareness among people about the virus and the precautions they need to take to  ward off the infection”, Jayashree said. The fear has also forced several people to flee. A report in the Deccan Chronicle said 50 families vacated their homes at Koorachundu and Chakittappara villages. While one person from Koorachundu died due to the virus attack, people from Chakittappara are suspected to have contracted the infection.

Government data on communicable diseases showed that in 2017, dengue fever claimed 165 lives, leptospirosis 80, fever 76, hepatitis 31, and diarrhoea 8. As many as 34 lakh people in Kerala sought treatment for fever during the year. A majority of cases were reported during the monsoon season from June to August. The statistics pertain to patients’ data in government hospitals. The number will be a staggering if cases from private hospitals are added. Industry players believe the major cause of the outbreak of infectious diseases, some of them eradicated long ago, is the absence of an effective and scientific waste management system.

M Gopakumar, a resort owner at Thiruvananthapuram, said infectious disease outbreaks during monsoon has become an annual phenomenon, much like the monsoon itself. Kerala will lose its prime status as a tourist destination if urgent steps are not taken to address the environmental issues, he added.

Updated Date: May 24, 2018 19:09:32 IST