Hyderabad/Mumbai/Bangalore: Indian aviation authorities have put in place the first measures to prevent the potential spread of swine flu into the country by deploying doctors at international airports to screen passengers arriving from countries including Mexico, the US, Canada and Spain.
The measures came as reports emerged on Wednesday of a 23-month-old Mexican child dying in Houston, Texas, the first confirmed swine flu casualty outside of Mexico, the country worst hit by the influenza outbreak.
In Bangalore, the centre of India’s information technology (IT) industry, where the airport handles about 4,000 international travellers a day, a team of four doctors has begun round-the-clock screening of passengers.
Serious repercussions: A man sits at a nearly vacant airport terminal in Mexico City. For the already struggling aviation industry, the swine flu scare could bring further pain as travel restrictions kick in. Brennan Linsley / AP
“Our intention is to first screen people from countries such as Mexico, Spain, US and Canada. So far, no cases have been identified,” said C. Anbazhagan, regional director of India’s health and family welfare department, who is the public health officer at the airport to tackle the crisis. He said passengers suspected of carrying the virus will be moved to an isolation hospital in the city. The international airport in Hyderabad, the other major IT hub in the country, on Wednesday deployed at least two doctors to screen passengers.
At the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai on Wednesday, which doesn’t have any direct flights from Canada or Mexico, at least 10 doctors were stationed to screen passengers, with another eight expected to join them on Thursday. Any passenger found with symptoms of the virus would be moved to designated hospitals in the city for further testing.
For the already struggling aviation industry, the swine flu scare could bring further pain as travel restrictions kick in.
“Owing to the fear of swine flu, there have been 2-4% cancellations in international bookings in the last one week. If the situation does not improve soon, it can have a serious impact on the travel industry which is already facing difficult times,” said Ankur Bhatia, executive director of the Bird Group, which has interests in aviation, travel and information technology.
The government, for its part, has increased its procurement of antiviral oseltamavir (brand name Tamiflu) and will now procure two million doses, besides the one million it already has in stock. India’s Hetero Drugs Ltd, which holds a licence from Roche Holding AG to produce Tamiflu, said it can supply 40 million capsules of the drug on demand. It has already been approached by the government to supply one million capsules, managing director Srinivas Reddy told Bloomberg.
A senior official at the ministry of health and family welfare in New Delhi said some samples of suspected swine flu had been sent to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases for testing, but it would take at least 24-48 hours for the results to come in.
Additionally, the IT sector, with extensive networks in the US and Mexico, is keeping tabs on the development as it could affect business.
A report on Wednesday by global consulting firm Gartner Inc. warned that the IT industry could see a drop in business as the flu cuts into business travel and causes absenteeism. A number of Indian IT firms, including Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, or TCS, Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd, have outsourcing operations in Mexico.
“If the swine flu situation is not contained and travel remains restricted for extended period of time, there could be serious repercussions on business continuity,” Diptarup Chakraborti, principal research analyst with Gartner, told Mint.
In a note to clients, Gartner analysts warned that “a true pandemic could cause absenteeism rates of 40% or higher for enterprises and their business partners and suppliers (who have operations in Mexico), resulting in severe operational disruptions.”
According to estimates by the National Association of Software and Services Companies, or Nasscom, an IT industry body, Indian companies collectively have about 10,000 employees across Latin American countries, including Mexico. Of the three leading Indian IT firms, TCS has about 1,600 employees in Mexico, while Infosys has 200. Wipro declined to give Mexico-specific figures.
“We do not have an assessment yet of the possible disruptions that may be caused by swine flu in Mexico. There may be some project delays, but we are not sure yet. But Indian service providers would have business continuity plans...if the situation demands,” Nasscom president Som Mittal told Mint.
Tarun Shukla and Radhieka Pandeya of Mint, and Bloomberg and PTI contributed to this story.