Thailand fears tourism impact after rise in Zika cases

Is Thailand’s tourism industry at stake? Pic: Roberto Faccenda/flickr

HEALTH and city officials in Thailand are urging for calm amid reports on the spread of the Zika virus in the kingdom, expressing concern that the bad news could affect the country’s tourism-dependent economy.

According to Reuters, 22 new cases were confirmed Sunday in the upmarket Sathorn area of Bangkok, including one involving a pregnant woman. However, the woman has since given birth with no complications.

“The information on Zika is quite sensitive because if we say which province has infections then attention will turn on that province, and if that province is popular with tourists it will have an impact on tourism.

“We don’t want people to be too alarmed,” Anuttarasakdi Ratchatatat, epidemiologist at the health ministry’s Bureau of Vector Borne disease, was quoted as saying by the news wire.

Anuttarasakdi is not the only official to call for calm.

In The Nation, government spokesman Maj-General Sansem Kaewkamnerd made a similar call, pointing out that Zika infections are not fatal.

In Thai PBS, deputy city clerk of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration Dr Wanthanee Wattana reportedly pleaded with members of the public not to panic.

She said those confirmed to have the infection have been placed under a 30-day watch to ensure they do not fall sick. They have also been confined to their homes to prevent the virus from spreading.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s neighbor Malaysia yesterday instructed schools to cancel all upcoming school trips to Singapore and the Philippines due to recent outbreaks of Zika in both countries and the continuing spread of the virus in Southeast Asia.

Malaysia’s Education Ministry in a nationwide circular informed schools of the temporary ban following a high-level meeting last week.

Malaysia reported its first Zika case on September 7, and two more have followed since, including the country’s first case involving a pregnant woman. The 27-year old woman, who is between three and four months pregnant, lives in Johor, a southern city right across the border to Singapore.

As of Friday, there have been 304 cases of Zika in Singapore. According to the Straits Times, the National Environment Agency said that they are still carrying out vector control operations in all areas where cases have been found.

The Philippines confirmed last week its first case and said it was highly likely that it had been locally transmitted.

A Zika infection can have serious consequences on pregnant women and their unborn children. If infected, the virus can lead to microcephaly, a congenital condition that causes incomplete brain development. Babies with the infection are typically born with abnormally small heads.

The infection is, however, typically mild and seldom causes death, but shares symptoms with its vastly more fatal cousin, dengue – a common viral scourge in tropical Southeast Asia. Both are viruses are spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

This makes nations ordinarily ravaged by dengue particularly vulnerable to Zika as well.

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This story first appeared on Asian Correspondent.