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Nipah virus scare hits airline bookings to Kerala.

THERE has been a drop of almost 50 per cent in airline bookings to Kerala as the south Indian state remains in the grip of a deadly virus.

The rare, brain-damaging Nipah virus (NiV) is contagious and currently has no vaccines.

It has already claimed 14 lives ever since the outbreak was reported earlier this month in Kozhikode, Kerala.

The virus' natural host is a fruit bat of the Pteropodidae family, according to the World Health Organisation.

Bahrain is home to more than 200,000 Keralites, most of them families, who often travel home when schools break for summer.

However, according to travel agents, airline bookings to Kerala from Bahrain have dropped by almost half for the months of June and July this year.

"There is an overall dip in bookings to Kerala, especially to Kozhikode, which is almost nil," a travel agent in Hoora told the GDN yesterday.

"Usually this time of the year flights are overbooked but this year it has been quiet and bookings to Kerala have definitely gone down by over 50pc.

"We understand people are worried about the virus.

"Last week, we had a corporate group booking to Kochi which was cancelled because they wanted to avoid the risk of Nipah infection.

"The flights are booked until June 1, but mainly by passengers returning to Kerala with schools reopening back home.

"From June 2, almost all flights to Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode are empty."

Holiday packages to Kerala have also been hit, said another agent in Muharraq.

"The virus has affected the business partially," said the Indian.

"At least three Arab families changed their holiday plans to Kerala and opted for a North Indian tour instead.

"There are no major cancellations of regular family bookings to Kerala, but people are enquiring (about the virus) and have asked for time to reconfirm the bookings."

Sources at Air India Express, one of the airlines that flies directly to Kerala, said the bookings during the first two weeks of June have dropped by around 25pc.

However, he said this could not be solely blamed on the virus crisis.

"There is a 20pc-25pc drop in the bookings for the first two weeks of June, which cannot be solely attributed to the virus," he said.

"During Ramadan, people tend to travel less.

"There have been some cancellations, mainly from corporate clients who cited the virus scare."

Air India Express country manager Kishore Joshi refuted the claims but refused to comment further.

Meanwhile, a family which cancelled its trip planned for mid-June expressed concerns of delay in returning.

"More than the virus, I am worried about the trouble of being quarantined or being unable to fly back from Kerala in case of a travel restriction which is a possibility in such cases."

The GDN reported yesterday that Bahrain has imposed a temporary ban on imports of fruits and vegetables from Kerala.

The Health Ministry last week confirmed there had been no suspected cases of the NiV in Bahrain, while Bahrain's consulate in Mumbai had warned its citizens against travelling to Kerala earlier last week.

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Publication:Gulf Daily News (Manama, Bahrain)
Geographic Code:7BAHR
Date:May 30, 2018
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