India is yet to put its plans into any definitive action to prevent the spread of swine flu, even though the country went on high alert mode days ago following WHO’s heightened precautionary guidelines on the outbreak of H1N1 virus.
Indian government issued guidelines for outbound travellers and made screening for H1N1 infection in incoming travellers from swine flu affected regions mandatory at select airports as steps to prevent the swine flu entering the Indian territory.
“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,” cautioned H.K. Singh, general secretary, Travel Agents Association of India.
However, no system to screen or check the travellers is yet in place in most of the airports listed for the preventive screening process.
The health ministry was expected to deploy 32 health officials each for Delhi and Mumbai international airports – the busiest airports in India that handles tens of thousand of overseas travellers every day – to carry out screening passengers for any symptoms H1N1 infection as a measure to prevent swine flu.
Though the health ministry announced its travel advisory on Monday, the airport authority in Delhi was asked to put up health counters only on late Tuesday.
“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,” a Delhi International Airports Limited spokesman was quoted as saying.
At Mumbai’s Chhattrapati Shivaji International Airport too, things are not entirely different. The Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) has been asked to provide only three counters. MIAL is the busiest airport of India.
As the number counters dedicated for the screening purpose are very limited checking every passenger for symptoms could result in chaos at the airports due to delays and long queues at immigration, fear airport officials.
Worse is the case with operating airlines: they are yet to be informed. “Usually travel advisories are issued by the WHO, but we have not heard from them or the Indian government,” stated an Air India official.
On Wednesday, WHO had raised the alert level to Level Five following a third emergency meeting in response to a spike in swine flu cases world wide.
WHO’s alert level indicates nation-wise preparedness and response plans to fight when a pandemic-like situation breaks out. The former phase of alert in the WHO global influenza preparedness plan was 4, and has now just been raised to 5.
A phase 6 is the highest in the scale and is for a full-scale pandemic.
Swine flu cases have now been confirmed in the US, UK, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Israel, and Germany, which has become the latest country to swine flu cases.
Mexico has the highest toll of swine flu related deaths: estimated 159 people, and suspected 1600 cases.
Six European Union states are examining patients who could have H1N1 -the swine flu causing virus.
Other nations that have also declared high-alert, and in checking mode include Australia, South Korea and Peru.
Swine flu symptoms include fever, lack of appetite, cough, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.