Asians fear for relatives in India

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The Independent Online
IN THE Asian community in Southall, west London, there are fears that pneumonic plague could spread to the neighbourhood or that relatives and friends in India might become infected.

While there is no panic, local travel agents report that people stopped booking flights to India three days ago.

Saffar Veena, at the video film hire counter in the United Meat Market, said yesterday: 'My whole family is in New Delhi. I am very worried about them . . . I have tried to telephone them but have never been able to get a line. I am worried that it might be brought here by people travelling from India. Everybody is worried . . . It is very serious.'

Damji Chhaya, 51, who was born in India and works at the Royal halva and sweetmeat shop, said: 'We are pleased that the Government has taken action to check people coming into the country. It is a very dangerous thing for the whole world. International governments must take action. The poor people can't do anything, the rich must do something.'

Nazar Hussein, of Shan Travel, who comes from Pakistan and was about to go for Friday prayers at the mosque, said all bookings for India had dried up several days ago.

'We are very worried in respect of the people who are living there. If someone carrying the disease reaches here it is not a good thing,' he said, adding that Pakistan and a number of Middle Eastern countries had acted quickly and banned flights from India. The Indian government had been negligent in not sealing off Surat in Gujarat state immediately and the British government should have grounded all flights to India.

Resham Singh Mander, of Rasham Travel, said he had booked no flights to India in the past three days. 'It will affect a lot of people's livelihoods. Travel agents are deserted. If people (in India) can't come back they will lose their jobs.'

Raj Chana, 32, community officer at the Dominion Centre, said: 'People don't really want to know about the disease. They are aware that it exists. It's an inner fear, they want to distance themselves from it. We are aware that it can be quite easily contracted but people view it as a one in a million chance.'

Piara Khabra, Labour MP for Ealing Southall, who was holding his surgery at the Indian Workers' Association offices, said that while there was no panic there was a 'general concern because this disease can infect other people and plague has been known before in Indian history at the beginning of the century'.

While flights to India should not be stopped, he said, the international community, especially the richer western nations, should help to stop the disease spreading internationally by providing medical assistance and preventive expertise.

Most of the Asian community in Southall comes from the Punjab region of India and from Pakistan. Few families come from Surat, the epicentre of the plague.

(Photograph omitted)