With swine flu spreading across the globe, tourists boarding houseboats to cruise along the backwaters of Alappuzha will now be welcomed with the traditional ‘Namaste’, and not the regular handshake.

The decision to dispense with the ‘foreign’ style of greeting and adopt the traditional Indian ‘Namaste’ came after the Health Department held an awareness campaign among the staff and crew of houseboats earlier this week. They were asked to avoid physical contact with foreigners to whatever extent possible.

Avoiding handshakes would not be enough, the officials have said, asking houseboat operators to report ‘suspiciously ill’ clients as well. The houseboat operators are to alert authorities and take any tourist with a cold or a running nose to the Sahrudaya Hospital or the Alappuzha General Hospital, the two centres in the district headquarters that have been designated as testing centres for the flu.

The District Health wing, apart from asking the crew to wear masks while interacting with tourists and to destroy the masks immediately after use, have told the crew to wash their with soap at regular intervals. The houseboat staff have also been directed that if any one of them was suffering from a cold and if a handkerchief was not available, the nose was not to be wiped with the hands, but “with the tip of the dress worn at that time”.

The directions have come at a time when the tourist season in the coastal town is just picking up. A few tourists, who landed here prior to the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, are still around and more are coming in, though in small numbers. The houseboat industry, however, is still skeptical about a lucrative season, particularly in the backdrop of the global economic slowdown and the swine flu factor.

The district, on the other hand, is yet to report a confirmed case of the flu. Seven suspected cases were reported and throat swabs have been sent for testing. The results are awaited.

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