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Last Updated: Monday, 28 April, 2003, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Sars on the rise in India
Doctors at isolation ward in Pune, India
Health workers fear India is particularly vulnerable

Two more cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) have been reported in India, taking the total number of people infected with the pneumonia-like virus there to nine.

Health officials confirmed the new cases in the cities of Calcutta and Bombay, also called Mumbai.

The news came as India's national airline suspended 27 pilots who are refusing to fly with any crew member who has travelled to a Sars-affected country in the previous 10 days.

There has been chaos at airports with a number of Air India flights cancelled or rescheduled.

No amount of money will make us fly to Sars-affected countries like Hong Kong
Indian Pilots' Guild president Kenneth Khan

There have been no Sars deaths in India so far, but doctors are concerned that the absence of a proper disease detection system makes a country like India particularly vulnerable.

Correspondents say prevention is key in a country of more than one billion people, most of whom do not have access to quality health care.

Alarm

The case in Calcutta is the city's second in as many days.

empty air india check in counters at Delhi airport
Air India flights have been badly hit

A senior Health Ministry official said a 36-year-old man had been detected with the virus.

He had been admitted to hospital in Bangkok with fever earlier this month, but infection was confirmed only after his return to India.

Reports say fears over the outbreak are growing in Calcutta, with many patients discharging themselves from the hospitals where the two Sars patients are being treated.

Pharmacies have sold hundreds of surgical masks, which are retailing at double their normal price.

Last week India ordered strict new measures to contain the spread of the virus.

All airport officials have been ordered to wear masks and all international arrival are being compulsorily screened.

Pilots grounded

The row between the Air India management and the pilots has led to chaos at the country's airports with a number of flights cancelled or rescheduled.

State-owned Air India said it had suspended the pilots because they were refusing to operate scheduled flights.

Executive pilots have now been drafted in to fly the aircraft. The suspended pilots say they will seek legal advice.

KNOWN DEATH TOLL
Mainland China: 131
Hong Kong: 133
Singapore: 21
Canada: 21
Vietnam: 5
Thailand: 2
Malaysia: 2
Philippines: 2
Taiwan: 1
Indonesia: 1 (unconfirmed)
Source: WHO/ local health authorities

The Indian Government said it would also take action against the pilots.

"We have initiated a process in consultation with the labour ministry to declare their undeclared strike illegal and take necessary action against them," Civil Aviation Minister Shahnawaz Hussain told parliament.

The Indian Pilots' Guild, which represents more than 200 pilots, says the pilots will only fly if the management issues a certificate stating that no crew member has flown to a Sars-hit country in the past fortnight.

The management has said it will not issue certificates, since no other airlines were doing so.

Air India schedules have been hard hit, with many flights to the Gulf and south-east Asia affected.




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