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Foreign tourists hit hurdles due to coronavirus scare


Kottayam: With Kerala on high alert for coronavirus, foreign tourists visiting God's Own Country are finding it difficult to get accommodation and move around, prompting the government to disapprove of such acts and ask people not to see every foreigner as a COVID-19 carrier.

With two people, including a UK national, testing positive for coronavirus on Sunday, the number of those affected in the state has risen to 21 as the government began a "break the chain" initiative to prevent spread of the virus.

It has also launched intensified medical check up at border areas for people entering the state by rail and road.

Amid the stepped up preventive measures, several cases of foreigners being 'denied' travel in public transport systems and stay in hotels have been reported in the past few days from various parts of the state, a major attraction for travellers with its picturesque locales and enchanting backwaters.

Cautioning against such acts, Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran described overseas visitors as "our friends" and 'guests" and called for a change of mindset of some people who allegedly treat them as carriers of coronavirus.

On Sunday, authorities were forced to shift two foreign nationals to a quarantine facility at a government hospital in nearby Pala after their co-passengers in a state-owned transport corporation bus raised an alarm.

The two from Spain were travelling in the bus when police stopped it at Kuravilangad in Kottayam district after co- passengers said they could not travel with them due to the coronavirus threat, according to official sources.

The tourists were then taken to a government hospital for check-up by the police.

Though the two were advised to remain in quarantine for 14 days, they were allegedly denied stay in a hotel or lodge in the area.

Police later shifted them to the quarantine facility set up in the general hospital in Pala, the sources said.

A foreign tourist visiting scenic Wagamon hill station bordering Kottayam and Idukki district allegedly slept in the cemetery of a church after he was denied lodging facility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

People visiting the church for attending the Sunday morning mass reportedly saw the tourist coming out of the cemetery.

However, he could not be traced despite a search being launched, police said.

Speaking at a function in Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram district, the Minister said foreign tourists are "our guests" and they are flocking to the state thanks to the global marketing campaign launched by the Tourism department.

Noting that the tourism industry was the backbone of Kerala's economy, Surendran said the arrival of the tourists to the state was necessary for the state's growth.

"Tourism industry contributes 10 per cent of Kerala's GDP. During the last fiscal, the total revenue collected from the tourism sector alone stands at Rs 45,000 crores. It is 24 per cent higher than the previous year. The sector also provides jobs for 15 lakh people, directly or indirectly", he said.

"The tendency of seeing the foreign tourists as coronavirus carriers must change. They are not our enemies.

They are our friends. For us, they are our guests. So our mindset towards them should change", he added.

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