Expats worried as Kerala wants only covid-tested on chartered flights

  • Over two lakh expatriates of Kerala are booked on chartered flights to get back home in June itself
  • Forty chartered flights will start from Gulf nations to multiple airports in Kerala starting Monday

Nidheesh M.K.
Updated15 Jun 2020
Kerala chief minister PInarayi Vijayan. File photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Kerala chief minister PInarayi Vijayan. File photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Nine flights from Tajikistan were set to land at Kerala’s Cochin International Airport on Sunday, carrying 1,620 stranded Indians, while chartered planes will begin flying to various airports in Kerala from Gulf nations on Monday.

Every fourth Indian migrant to the Gulf region is from Kerala, according to official estimates. Every fifth house in Kerala belongs to a person who works in the Gulf. Their remittances, which crossed 1 trillion in 2019, make up 36% of Kerala’s gross state domestic product.

Jobless, stranded and in fear of the coronavirus pandemic, Keralites around the world have banded together through influential expat networks. Given the shortage of government evacuation flights, they are now planning to return via private jet services, once the realm of celebrities or the corporate elite.

Over 200,000 expat Keralites have turned to book chartered flights to get back home in June, but only 812 of them have been given permission so far, according to data from the state government. In contrast, only 360 repatriation flights are being operated by the central government as part of the official rescue mission ‘Vande Bharat’ for stranded Indians overseas.

Worried state authorities have put a rider to limit the crowd.

K. Elangovan, the principal secretary of Norka, a nodal agency on expat arrivals, has issued a direction stating that only passengers who have tested negative for covid-19 should be allowed to board such chartered flights. With only hours to go for some departures, the direction has created a furore in the state. Oddly, the rule is not mandatory for official repatriation flights. Expats say it goes against the spirit of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s statement on 11 March welcoming expats returning from foreign countries due to coronavirus.

“The overall infection rate among the returnees from the Middle East countries has risen to 3%, with returnees in some of the countries reporting as high as 6% infection upon arrival in Kerala. This clearly shows that those co-passengers who were not infected earlier have been exposed to these infected persons during their journeys home and could have become asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus,” said Elangovan.

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