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Swine Flu Scare
Screening of international passengers begins
*Alert at 17 Indian airports
* WHO warns of pandemic
*Virus spreads to Germany
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 29
With the World Health Organisation (WHO) raising the worldwide pandemic alert level from swine flu virus to Phase 4 today and the toll in Mexico alone rising above 150, India set itself the deadline of 8 am tomorrow to start screening every passenger entering international airports from affected as well as other countries.

Acting in the backdrop of the virus spreading today to Germany, making it the third European country after UK and Spain to confirm swine flu, the civil aviation ministry instructed all 17 international airports, including five with private operators, to keep screening stations ready. These counters will be manned by the staff provided by health ministry; Bureau of Civil Aviation Security was asked today to issue special access passes to personnel on duty.

In the capital, however, the screening deadline for passengers from Mexico, Canada and US is midnight today; by tomorrow 8 am, the process will be extended to all international passengers irrespective of the country of their belonging.

Airport health authorities in New Delhi told The Tribune today: “We have to screen every single for symptoms of swine flu. Screening and quarantining of counters are ready near the immigration area; 32 doctors and paramedics have been deployed. We are looking at the traffic of roughly 3000 passengers. That’s the estimate immigration authorities gave us. From tomorrow, we’ll screen every international passenger entering India.”

The government for its part acted fast to combat the scare today, with the civil aviation ministry instructing DGCA to ask pilots to provide a general declaration on health to the airport health organisations. In these declarations, illness other than airsickness has to be recorded. Crew members will also be sensitised to be vigilant towards passengers coming from Swine Flu affected countries and report suspected symptoms to immigrations and airport health authorities, said the government. For passengers, proformas have been printed in lakhs to declare symptoms voluntarily.

Health ministry sources meanwhile said there was no reason to panic, adding they had drawn out personnel who earlier helped them with the screening of bird flu. Precautions are being taken to keep the staff safe, considering the WHO warning that swine flu is deadlier than bird flu. One million doses of Tamiflu are stockpiled, though international health experts today warned against overuse of the drug, citing a possibility of the virus developing resistance to it.

The WHO for its part, by raising the alert level to 4, indicated that containment of the flu is not feasible any longer. Phase 4 alert is characterised by confirmed person-to-person spread of a new influenza virus able to cause “community-level” outbreaks.” The increase in the pandemic alert phase indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased.

Today, three swine flu cases were confirmed in Germany, though outside of Mexico, US continues to report maximum cases, with a state of emergency being declared today in California as well. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US meanwhile reported additional cases of confirmed swine influenza and a number of hospitalisations of swine flu patients, adding that internationally, the situation was more serious, with additional countries reporting confirmed cases of swine flu.

India had earlier issued a travel advisory asking people to defer non-essential travel to the affected nations.

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