NEW DELHI : The government scaled up screening of incoming passengers for coronavirus infections at airports and asked states and Union territories to review their preparedness for handling the virus even as its outbreak in China spooked travellers between the two countries.

“Till now, no case has been detected through these screening efforts. Passengers travelling from China are being requested to report to the nearest public health facility in case they feel any symptoms," said Preeti Sudan, secretary, ministry of health and family welfare.

The government has directed that there should be screening of passengers arriving from China at seven Indian airports—New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kochi. Till Wednesday, more than 43 flights and 9,156 passengers had been screened for novel coronavirus illness at Indian airports. The Union health ministry has been consulting the World Health Organization (WHO) for updates.

Analysts fear a large-scale outbreak in China could disrupt trade. The coronavirus has till now affected Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the US, which are among New Delhi’s top trading partners.

“There is a lot of trade that takes place through informal sector between India and China. Small businessmen go to China and place orders for mass consumption," said Biswajit Dhar, expert in international trade and economics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “If these businessmen are not able to go to China, in case of travel restrictions, there will definitely be an impact on business."

As India imports about 80% of its bulk drugs from China, a major outbreak in China could mean demand for medicines could shoot up there, resulting in uncertainty of supplies to India, he added.

Meanwhile, according to data from online travel and hotel booking website Ixigo, travel queries by Indians for China have dropped by as much as 37% in January, as compared to the previous month. Search enquiries for China-bound flights have dropped from 2,136 in December 2019 to 1,341 in January.

“A prolonged outbreak might result in a decrease in business travel bookings from India, which form the majority of the outbound numbers to China," said Aloke Bajpai, co-founder, Ixigo.

Confirming the drop in enquiries, Jyoti Mayal, president of Travel Agents Association of India, said, “If the situation continues for a few weeks, even business travel, which hasn’t been affected yet, will be affected."

Online travel company Cleartrip’s senior vice president Balu Ramachandran added, “In fact, last week (Indian bookings for travel to China) registered a 31% dip in bookings from the week before that. We are yet to observe any immediate traveller reactions in terms of bookings cancellations to the country."

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