KOLKATA: Tourists from Kolkata travelling in South-East Asian countries under the virus scare are having quite the ‘novel’ experience in more ways than one: rock-bottom prices and unbelievably low hotel tariffs, and even the most popular destinations wearing a deserted, almost unrecognisable, look. But even as several of them had pleasant vacations, doctors have warned that visiting these places is risky, and no precaution against nCoV could ever be fool-proof.
“I have been to Bangkok on multiple occasions. But this time, it seemed as though I was visiting a different city,” said Satnam Singh Ahluwalia, a resident of New Alipore, who visited Bangkok last month with wife Gurbir Kaur. “The hustle and bustle of Bangkok was missing. The streets were deserted and the markets were empty, with just a handful of tourists window-shopping. Supermarkets and bars closed early and nearly everyone wore masks.” The couple also had tickets booked for a trip to Japan later this month, but has cancelled them in the wake of the nCoV outbreak.
Wearing masks or staying away from crowds, while being safe practices, did not ensure immunity from the virus, reminded doctors.
“It’s advisable to wear masks or steer clear of crowds but even one infected person can give you the vir-us,” said Heart Foundation of India president K K Aggarwal. “Since it has spread to almost all SE Asian countries, particularly Thailand, chances of infection are high.”
Heart Foundation of India president KK Aggarwal added that those who have travelled to the region should remain quarantined at home for at least 15 days since their return and consult a doctor if s/he has fever or cough. “Even if you are travelling in an aircraft with a couple of infected people, you may get the virus. So, it would be wrong to assume that a deserted Bangkok would be safer than a crowded one,” he warned.
Financial communicator and social worker Mudar Patherya, who was also in Bangkok last week, received the shock of his life when he boarded the plane. The 180-seater aircraft flew near-empty on February 26, with just 23 passengers on board. “There was a lull all around. I learned the government had advised citizens to refrain from visiting crowded places. So, people were avoiding even public transport and many preferred to stay indoors,” Patherya told TOI.
Thailand, incidentally, was the first country outside China to report a case of nCoV, on January 13. As of now, the country has recorded 43 confirmed cases.
The beach resort of Phuket, Thailand’s second-most visited destination after Bangkok — remained deserted during the annual festival held last month on Walking Street in the heart of town.
Railway engineer and Chetla resident Sanjay Prasad was in Bangkok with his wife and another couple last month. He said the nCoV scare had even made the famous street food disappear, both at Pattaya and on Bangkok’s Khao San Road. “Exotic meats like alligator, bat, snake and frog have gone off the menu. Although we were wary about trying out exotic items, we were surprised that stalls weren’t selling them, either,” said Prasad.
The situation is similar at other South-East Asian tourist destinations like Vietnam, with places like the Literature Temple and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi — often cited as the country’s two most popular tourist attractions — almost devoid of tourists. Nearly everyone around are wearing masks, either voluntarily or under duress, said tourists.
“Two of my friends from Delhi had recently been to Hanoi, and they said it’s not safe to visit. So, I cancelled my tickets to Hanoi,” said Jadavpur resident Sayani Chaudhari, a freelance graphic artist.
A senior official of Thai Airways, which has daily direct flights to Bangkok, said the number of passengers gradually decreased since the last week of January 20. The airline was still receiving ticket-refund requests, he added.