Despite opposition from the center and the expat community, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Wednesday stuck to his stand that returnees from the diaspora community should undergo covid-19 testing before flying back. He also announced that around two lakh expats stuck overseas over the pandemic are likely to arrive in 420 flights in June. The bulk of them are coming through chartered flights, arranged by diaspora communities, said Vijayan.
Opposition leader from BJP and Union Minister V Muraleedharan, heads of several expat-welfare organisations, had recently come out against the state's demand on testing before boarding. But the state cannot allow mixing people infected by the virus and those who are not in these flights, said Vijayan.
"All passengers travelling from abroad should get themselves tested for covid-19 before boarding. Covid-19 patients and other passengers can't travel together in the same flight. This is necessary to prevent community spreading," said Vijayan.
"Those who are positive can be brought in separate flight and state will offer treatment. The central government should make arrangements to conduct covid-19 tests through embassies of all passengers from abroad. The state has demanded this in a letter to central government on 5 May," said Vijayan.
Vijayan said that as part of Vande Bharat mission, the center's official repatriation mission for stranded expats, 179 flights have arrived in the state so far, apart from 124 chartered flights. As many as 713 overseas returnees to the state have tested positive for the infection so far, said Vijayan, forming 1.5% of the current active case-load—which as on Wednesday stood at 1,366 patients. Altogther 1,246 patients, or 52.19% of the total, active patients in the state are those who came back from foreign countries or other states, said Vijayan.
The state is worried these numbers shall go up as more expats return. A total of 420 flights, carrying nearly two lakh stranded expats, have been given permission to arrive until 24 June, announced Vijayan. This includes 171 Vande Bharat flights and 249 chartered flights.
"Nearly two lakh expats would come in these flights and if at least 2% of them get infected, there will be 4000 new patients in the state. This could create an increase in the local spread too," he said.
Vijayan added that the state has also given permission to 300 chartered flights by Spice Jet, who has assured they will only bring passengers who are tested negative for covid-19. "When other organisations sought permission for chartered flights, they were also asked to conduct covid-19 tests like Spice Jet. If they can do it, anyone else can," he said.