Passengers offloaded from Kochi-Dubai Emirates flight after coronavirus scare

British patient did not disclose his condition and boarded the flight with 288 others

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More than 200 passengers were offloaded from a Dubai-bound Emirates flight at an Indian airport on Sunday after a state alert about a British national among them who had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The British tourist had not disclosed his medical condition, Indian health officials said.

The passenger and his wife boarded the plane but were asked to disembark when information about his condition was flagged by health and immigration officials at Kochi International airport in India's southern Kerala state.

The flight left India after a three-hour delay on Sunday afternoon.

All passengers were asked to disembark when officials were alerted about the undeclared coronavirus patient.

He was travelling as part of a group of 19, Indian officials told The National.

He and his wife have been admitted to a government hospital and the 17 others have been taken to a hotel turned into a makeshift quarantine centre, Kerala officials said.

The tourist tested positive while on holiday at a hill resort in Munnar, known for its tea and cardamom plantations, which is 120 kilometres from Kochi airport.

He was placed under quarantine at the hotel but left for the airport without informing state health officials, Dr Sreedevi, a district surveillance officer, said.

Emirates Airlines said it was cooperating fully with local authorities in Kerala.

"Emirates can confirm that the local authorities in Kerala prevented a group of 19 passengers from boarding our flight EK531 Kochi-Dubai earlier today," a representative said.

“After receiving approvals from all authorities concerned and after communicating with the rest of our passengers who were waiting to board, our flight continued to Dubai with a delay of just over three hours.”

Health authorities have urged foreign tourists to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease.

“What the tourist did was wrong because he put other people in danger,” Dr Sreedevi said.

“We managed to catch him but he should not have broken the quarantine. He did not let our officers know that he was leaving the hotel. He was part of a group of 19 that had been travelling together.”

The Emirates flight took off for Dubai at 12.47pm with 270 passengers on board, said PS Jayan, the press relations officer at Kochi airport.

Kerala has appointed teams of surveillance officers in 14 districts that monitor coronavirus patients and keep a check on their primary and secondary contacts.

They regularly report information and send updates to state health officials and a control room for coronavirus cases.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in India exceeded100 on Sunday, with 19 patients being treated in Kerala. 
India's federal government has asked people not to panic and health ministers have said there has been no community transmission of the virus so far.

Kerala declared a health emergency last week and shut schools, colleges and cinemas until the end of the month.

Coronavirus: What is a pandemic?

Coronavirus: What is a pandemic?

The state’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Kerala was on high alert.

There are 5,191 people in home quarantine in the state and 277 in isolation facilities, the state health and family welfare department said.

Three patients have been treated and discharged. The students were among the first in India to test positive, and had returned from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus outbreak was first detected.

Earlier, Kerala health officials said 180 people were placed under strict home quarantine including passengers who shared an Emirates flight with a three-year-old boy and his parents who later tested positive for the coronavirus.

The family had travelled from Italy and transited through Dubai International Airport to Kerala.

Two deaths from the virus in India have been reported.

It claimed the life of a 76-year-old man from the southern state of Karnataka who had returned home from Saudi Arabia.

A woman aged 69 died in New Delhi, India's capital, after contracting the disease from her son, who had travelled to Japan, Switzerland and Italy.

The Indian government announced the suspension of all visas for foreign tourists from Friday barring diplomatic and employment entry documents to curb the spread of the disease.