Home >News >India >Kerala tense as Centre objects to covid testing for returning expats

ERNAKULAM : Differences over covid-19 negative certificates have led to tensions in Kerala. The Union government has raised strong objections to the state government’s direction that expats should have such certificates before flying into the state. The Centre has said that its objection is based on “practical difficulties".

A final decision will be taken following discussions with the Centre over the next few days, Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Tuesday.

The move, the state government said, was to prevent those not exposed to the virus becoming infected on the plane, eventually increasing the caseload in Kerala. A lot of informal workers in the Gulf countries, where nearly 3 million Keralites work, live in congested spaces.

However, the Vijayan government is walking a tightrope. A U-turn may lead to an explosion of cases, as the influx of expats will dramatically increase. On the other hand, sticking to it has become a collision course with the Centre, not to mention mounting local opposition.

The ministry of external affairs (MEA) told Kerala’s chief secretary Vishwas Mehta on Tuesday that the demand for a covid-19 negative certificate by the state is impractical. The MEA said that it consulted the Indian embassies in various countries on the matter. The Gulf countries, where Kerala has millions of expats, have in general said that conducting rapid tests will not be possible because of practical difficulties, it said.

The state had earlier announced that only expats who undergo testing before flying and are covid-negative will be allowed from Thursday onwards.

Internally, the officials are begging to take more drastic measures to not become another epicentre of the pandemic. But, Kerala’s Opposition has maintained that there is no cause for alarm, and resists such measures to slow the virus spread as it would severely inconvenience expats who want to return.

“There is spiralling of cases, including those without a known source of infection. We cannot stand idle. That is why we raised the request for pre-flight covid-19 test certificates and wrote to the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) and the ministry of external affairs. However, MEA has informed the state chief secretary today that they contacted several embassies on the matter and it is practically difficult," said Vijayan.

He said testing was difficult in several Gulf countries, as explained by the MEA. “The UAE is conducting rapid antibody tests. Qatar is using a mobile app that will give passengers a green status before flying out. In Kuwait, only two terminals (of two flight companies) have testing facilities currently, and it is being increased, but each test will cost (the passenger) around 1,000," said Vijayan.

“The government is duty-bound to return home every expat who wants to return," he said.

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