At least two foreign nationals in the state have tested positive and there have been two reported instances of foreign nationals trying to escape medical tests or isolation.

Hostility and suspicion greet foreign tourists in Kerala amid coronavirus outbreak
Coronavirus Coronavirus Tuesday, March 17, 2020 - 18:44

With the growing number of coronavirus cases reported in Kerala, multiple foreign tourists, especially from vulnerable countries, have been shunned by homestay, hotel and resort owners, as well as the public. 

Over 5000 foreign nationals are touring in Kerala at present. With the panic over the coronavirus outbreak that has set in over the past week, several foreign travellers have reported that they are struggling to find accommodation in the state, especially in tourist destinations such as Munnar in Idukki. A possible explanation for the the panic and ostracisation of foreign nationals by the public can be traced to the fact that at least two foreign nationals in the state have tested positive and there have been two reported instances of foreign nationals trying to escape medical tests or isolation.

On Sunday, March 15, residents near the Church of Christ Cemetery in Vagamon, Idukki, witnessed a foreign national walk out from from between the tombs. The lone tourist had reportedly slept inside the church cemetery after being denied accommodation in resorts, hotels and homestay in Vagamon. After residents alerted the police station, local authorities arrived at the cemetery. However, by then, the tourist had left the area on a bus. 

Most hotels and resorts are wary as on Sunday, a UK national placed under observation in a KTDC hill resort in Munnar exited the resort and travelled to Nedumbassery International Airport to board a flight to Dubai. His results came by then and he had tested positive. 290 people had to be offloaded and eventually everyone except the tourist and 17 from his group were allowed to go. Following this, the resort was shut down and the government has warned strict action against resorts that allow foreign nationals out, without their test results coming in.     

In a second such incident, commuters inside a Kerala RTC bus plying to Munnar panicked and alerted the police after finding a Spanish family within their midst. The bus was stalled and the authorities took the family to the nearest observation centre at the Government General Hospital in Pala. The Kottayam District Collector handed over the Spanish family to the state Health Department which placed them under a 28-day quarantine. Despite the family remaining asymptomatic, extra measures was taken to curtail the possible spread of the disease through healthy carriers.

In the northern district of Kannur, local papers reported a couple from France and Italy starving after they could not find food and a place to stay for five days. The incident reportedly took place in Payyanur. On receiving the information, municipality officials, taluk hospital staff and local police came to the couple's rescue by offering them food. The couple was fed by the doctor in the taluk hospital and then moved to a better facility in Thalassery. 

To ease the distress faced by these foreign tourists, the Kerala government has now launched a help desk offering travel updates and assistance to domestic and foreign visitors on  the COVID-19 outbreak. 

A tweet by Kerala Tourism on Tuesday, March 17 read,"In line with the ongoing efforts to ensure the well-being of our tourists, a help desk has been set up in connection with #COVID19."

"The intention is to offer any updates on coronavirus with regard to travel and tourism to our domestic as well as foreign guests. Travellers in the state can ask any queries to us by mailing helpdesk@keralatourism.org. In case of tourists hailing from COVID-19 affected countries or those who exhibit symptoms, we will take due measures by collaborating with the state health department whose guidelines we follow," a media representative of Kerala Tourism told TNM.

Though the government is trying to accommodate foreign tourists at hotels and paying for it, there is high level of distrust among the public. A US couple, one of whom exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, was traced to the Kochi airport on Friday after they escaped from the isolation ward of the Government Medical College in Alapuzha. Incidents like these have made it tough for the government and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has requested people not to ostracise or cause harm to foreign travellers.