Post Mortem

India under travel by several nations

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 4/29/2021 1:36:08 PM IST

 More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, India is in the throes of a public health catastrophe. A second wave of infections has blindsided the country that until March seemed to have the coronavirus under control. Hospital beds are full, and medical supplies—most crucially, oxygen—are in short supply. India on Wednesday recorded 360,000 new COVID cases and 3,000 deaths in a 24-hour span. All the while, scientists are concerned that a new variant—an ominously titled “double mutant strain”—is behind the skyrocketing case count. 

No matter how quickly India’s crisis eases, the recent spike in infections and flight restrictions have slammed a travel industry that was already on the brink. 

Tourism contributes about 10% of India’s GDP and employs around 50 million people directly and indirectly. Subhash Goyal, chairman of STIC Travel Group and a veteran travel and tourism industry official, estimates that 10 million people have already lost jobs since the pandemic began, and about 40% of tour operators have shut down.

As India grapples with its crisis, other countries have locked their borders to any visitors from the country, whose diaspora is the largest in the world.

As of Wednesday, at least 10 countries including Italy, Germany, and Singapore have instituted new bans on flights to and from India. Other countries, including Australia, France, and the United Kingdom, have reduced flights or extended mandatory quarantines for travelers arriving from India.

In Hong Kong, authorities implemented a two-week ban on all flights from India on April 18 after authorities detected that over one-third, or 52, of all passengers on an April 3 flight from New Delhi tested positive for COVID-19. All of the travelers submitted negative tests within 72 hours of boarding the plane, meaning that Hong Kong only detected the cases after the passengers arrived in the city.

Nicholas Thomas, a professor of global health governance at the City University of Hong Kong, says the flight ban “was not just about the India mutation.” The ban was also “about the fact that the virus is now truly endemic throughout India” and the “high chance” that any passengers arriving could be carrying it.

India is now recording nearly half of the world’s new confirmed COVID-19 cases each day, and case counts appear to be leveling off or falling in countries like Brazil and the U.S., which are recording the second- and third-most new infections per day, respectively. 

People were so exhausted from following a strict regime for a whole year that they relaxed and became casual about preventive measures like wearing a mask, says Sudhir Kalhan, chairman at the Institute of Minimal Access, Metabolic, and Bariatric Surgery. Now, people are panicking, which is creating a different kind of problem. “People are hoarding antibiotics, antiviral drugs, and even things like oxygen concentrators are not available at three or four times the normal market rates,” he notes. “Medicines like Tamiflu, remdesivir, and even steroids, which were plenty, are in short supply.”

Tens of thousands of appeals for help getting medical supplies such as oxygen and admission to hospitals have streamed across Facebook and WhatsApp in recent days. Scenes of people lugging oxygen tanks on their motorcycles and cars are now common in New Delhi. 

Bharat Gopal, senior consultant in pulmonology at New Delhi’s Fortis Hospital, says that rather than finding fault with other countries for imposing a travel ban, India should have been extra cautious.

In fact, India and over 40 countries and territories including Germany, France, and Hong Kong imposed at least temporary flight bans in December 2020 after the U.K. reported that a new COVID-19 variant was rapidly spreading across the country. Most of the countries resumed flights to and from the U.K. in the days and weeks following their initial bans, but at least one location, Hong Kong, has continued to ban flights from the U.K.

Public health experts stress that locked borders may help limit the spread of the Indian variant—already, the coronavirus strain first spotted in India has been detected in the U.S. and 18 other countries and territories—but they won’t ease the devastation currently gripping the subcontinent.

“The position is indeed very grim in this country at the moment. If India can put a travel ban on England in January when the country was experiencing its second wave, I feel this ban is justified,” Rajiv Mehra, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators tells Fortune. He notes that the current restrictions arrived just as outbound travel firms had reopened bookings, starting with destinations like Dubai and Maldives. “As soon as things improve,” he says, “these bans should be lifted.”

Biman Mukherji and Grady Mcgregor

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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