Kerala’s decision to issue NOC a heavy blow for NRK travellers

The decision of the Kerala state cabinet to give a no-objection certificate (NOC) after June 20 to travellers on Vande Bharat Mission (VMB) flights and chartered flights carrying non-resident Keralites (NRKs) from foreign countries to only those passengers who have undergone the Covid-19 test has come as a heavy blow to Keralites who have been eagerly waiting to fly back home from Covid-19 affected countries.

The state government had on June 14 sent a letter to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to conduct Covid test for all Non-Resident Keralites and other travellers boarding flights to Kerala. “If PCR (Polymerise chain reaction) test is not possible, the passengers can do a rapid antibody test or TrueNat test which will not cost much money and time,” said Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, at a press briefing.

In defense of the decision of the state cabinet, Vijayan said that Kerala government had approved Spicejet to conduct 300 chartered flights and the aviation company itself assured the government that all the passengers would undergo Covid-19 tests before boarding the flights from abroad.

“As of now, Spicejet has conducted more than 20 flights to Kerala. If Spicejet can conduct why can’t other aviation companies do the same? If in any country the rapid tests cannot be done, the union government needs to make arrangements through concerned embassies to conduct such tests. The state government cannot allow passengers who are infected with Covid-19 to travel alongside passengers who are not infected,” Vijayan said.

According to the official figures of the state government, as many as 84,195 persons have come from abroad to Kerala and 1.79 lakh people have come from other states during this Covid period till June 16. Of the 1,366 positive cases in Kerala at present, 1,246 persons have come from outside Kerala—713 people from abroad and 533 from other states. In all, 52.19 per cent of positive patients at present reported in Kerala have come from abroad. 1.5 to 2 per cent of the total NRKs coming from other countries were expected to test Covid-19 positive and a total of 2 lakh are expected to return to Kerala.

“In that way there will be 4,000 Covid-19 patients in the state and that may lead to community spread,” said Vijayan. During the lockdown, a total of 303 flights have reached Kerala and 420 flights including chartered and VBM and Spicejets flights are expected to reach Kerala in the coming days.

NRKs feel betrayed

An expatriate arrives on wheelchair at a UAE airport for boarding VBM flight

Even though the Chief Minister cited the safety of the passengers and the decision of Spicejet to conduct Covid-19 test on passengers while defending the decision taken by his government of making the tests mandatory for NRKs flying to Kerala, several NRK organizations have stiffly opposed the decision and termed it as move of the state government to prevent NRKs reaching Kerala.

K P Muhammed Kutty, president of Kerala Muslim Cultural Center (KMCC) in Saudi Arabia, reacted to the decision of the state government that rather than making Covid-19 test mandatory, it was better for the Kerala government to directly tell NRKs not to come back to Kerala till the Covid scare is over.

“As majority of the NRKs have not been able to get tickets booked in VMB flights several organizations like KMCC have already arranged for several chartered flights. In Gulf countries, it is very difficult to get Covid test done as there are very few hospitals doing the test and that too only on patients with severe Covid symptoms. Even for rapid test as mentioned by the CM, as of now, there are no facilities available in Saudi,” he noted.

He also noted that for domestic flights flying to Kerala, there was no such condition for the passengers and thousands of Keralites were returning to Kerala from different Covid hotspots across the country.

“Only Kerala government has come up with such a condition for those in exile to return home. The government needs to make it clear that if we manage to reach India on flights to airports outside Kerala, will the state government allow us to enter the state?” he asked.

Send Coffins Abroad

NRKs wait at the airport to board the flight

“The evacuation process of NRIs/NRKs from the Gulf region started very late. Those who have lost their jobs are eagerly waiting for their return journey to Kerala. Because of job loss, NRKs who were doing mid-level jobs are finding it difficult to pay rent for their rooms and even to find means for their daily bread. As it is difficult to get VBM tickets several among them have borrowed money from others to buy tickets for chartered flights. It is at this point in time that the Kerala government has come up with the decision to make Covid test mandatory,” expert on migrants in the Gulf, Rejimon Kuttappan, said.

He said that at present there were only RT-PCR and PCR tests done in the Gulf countries. According to Kuttappan, in the first place, it is very difficult to get these tests done in Gulf countries and it would take more than a week to get the results. The test will cost at least Rs 10,000 as well. Rapid tests were also not done in these countries for the NRKs to do it.

“The Covid test for all NRKs coming back home is not viable and the decision of the state government will only add to the sufferings of the NRKs. More than 230 have died in the Gulf due to Covid, and nearly 60 have died due to other reasons including heart attacks caused by anxiety. They are devastated financially, physically and mentally. Now, it will be better for the government to send coffins to the Gulf for them,” Kuttappan said.

Minister of State for External Affairs, V Muraleedahran, had said earlier in the day that it would be difficult for the VMB flights to operate to Kerala in phase three of the mission in view of such a decision of the state government.

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