Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday said 18 non-resident Keralites or NRKs have died so far across the world due the coronavirus pandemic, a matter of concern for the state even as the state itself has had two fatalities so far.
After 46 Malayalee nurses tested positive for the virus in a Mumbai hospital on Monday, he said he has also written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and respective state chief ministers, highlighting the plight of the Malayalee nursing workforce, known to be ubiquitous across the world, working against the lack of proper protective pieces of equipment.
Vijayan has also called for a protocol to deal with overseas returnees to Kerala once the travel restrictions disappear post the lockdown, in another letter to Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar, among other issues that need urgent central attention.
The news of 46 Malayalee nurses in Mumbai hospital testing positive, along with five others in a Delhi hospital, has sent shockwaves in Kerala. Nursing is a highly popular higher education and career option in Kerala and a large number of them work outside the state.
It is an emigration history in lines with an average Malayalee's propensity to travel in search of prosperity. Nearly 10% of the total 33 million population does not live in the state: they migrate for work. For instance, every third house in Kerala has a man working in the Gulf, which could mean Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman or Bahrain, as per official estimates.
"The situation in Kerala is comforting, we have been able to effectively control the virus spread to a large extent. But the global situation is worrying," said the CM, who read out the names of each NRK who died over the virus in his everyday evening press briefing on Monday, as a way of paying tribute.
"Malayalee society is one that is spread across the globe. We have a responsibility to know how they are mitigating the crisis and help them. They are also keen to know what's happening in their native place. I spoke to Malayalee ex-pats in 22 countries in a video conference today. Each region had to raise a different issue. The travel restrictions and lockdowns have altered their life," said Vijayan.
They pointed out issues that needed to be addressed by the central government and embassies, said Vijayan, such as an extension of visa and health insurance for six months. The state government has informed the External Affairs Minister of these demands, he said.
"Kerala government will do everything that is possible. Schools in gulf countries are shut now, but the parents are asked to pay the fees. We will try to talk to educational institutions with Malayalee managements working in the Gulf, but would like to publicly appeal to them to not do this. Expats are reeling under financial stress, they should be given as many relaxations as possible," said Vijayan.
The government is also planning for necessary quarantine measures needed for an expected return of expats once the lockdown period is over. A task-force formed to prepare necessary measures to be taken post the lockdown period will look into this, Vijayan said.
To ascertain the fiscal stress in the state over the lockdown, the Gulati Institute of Taxation and Financial Studies is sought to submit a study report on the district-wise loss of revenue and expenses, and the state planning commission will also look into this as well, the CM said. Vijayan also announced certain lockdown relaxations on Monday by allowing mobile recharge shops and motor vehicle workshops to remain open once in a week.