Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic made its presence felt across the world, the state government of Kerala has stepped in and made necessary arrangements to deal with it. While the efficiency of the state government and its Health Department has bagged praise from various quarters, the opposition parties in the state have been busy propagating fake news and creating an atmosphere of fear. The latest instance is of Ramesh Chennithala, member of opposition and senior Congress leader, who alleged that the state government has blocked chartered flights from Gulf countries and cheated expats.
The ‘negligence of the state government’ in the cases of expats has been doing the rounds on social media over the past few days. On June 19, while inaugurating a protest against the government at Thiruvananthapuram, Ramesh Chennithala had said that the state government is trying to block chartered flight services by making a COVID-19 negative certificate mandatory for those travelling to Kerala.
According to the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), as of June 24, as many as 543 flights and 3 ships have landed in Kerala since May 7. Of the 543, 335 are charted flights and the remaining 208 were part of the ‘Vande Bharat’ Mission. On June 24 alone, as many as 72 flights carrying 14,058 persons landed at various airports across the state. Except one, 71 of them were from countries in the Gulf region.
The CMO added that 1,114 charted flights have given permission to land so far, and that 462 flights from among these would land before June 30.
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On June 24, however, the Kerala government did say that those returning must try and get a negative test certificate for COVID-19, but added that those who did not have it would be subjected to a Rapid Anti-body test on arrival. Earlier, the mandatory test condition had drawn criticism from various quarters. Maintaining that it was required to ensure the safety of others, the state sought the Centre's help for providing testing facilities through embassies in host countries for the expatriates.
The latest order said that a new, country-specific protocol was being issued, keeping in mind the present limitation of testing infrastructure in Oman, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
"Wherever it is feasible to have any test conducted, every returnee shall make sincere efforts to get tested and travel along with the certificate. These tests should have been conducted within the least 72 hours before undertaking the travel (sic)," the order said.
"All returnees including asymptomatic persons, who do not have proof of having undergone necessary tests will be subjected to Rapid Antibody test on their arrival at airports by authorised agencies of the Government of Kerala (sic),” it added.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that a negative test certificate was must to ensure the safety of the people and that all passengers must register with the COVID-19 Jagratha portal. Passengers coming from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will have to wear Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits, while travellers from UAE and Qatar will have to produce proof of their COVID-19-free status. They would also have to wear an N-95 mask, a face shield and gloves. Expatriates from Oman and Bahrain, countries where testing was not possible, can board the flight, but they will be required to wear an N-95 mask, a face shield and gloves, he said.
"It's not possible for the state to interfere with the medical facilities in other countries. If screening is not conducted, there is a chance of the virus spreading during the flight," Vijayan said in a press conference on June 24.
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As of June 24, about 3,603 persons have tested positive for COVID-19 in Kerala. According to the CMO, 90% of these cases have been reported from people who have come from other states and countries. About 69% of COVID-19 cases in the state have come from other countries. The figures point to the need of screening before boarding flights.
CM Vijayan has also urged the Centre to operate separate flights for expats who have tested positive for the infection. The state had made such a request as early as June 14 , but the Centre is yet to respond.
Meanwhile, the Congress, Muslim League and the BJP, among other parties, have been claiming that the government is against Non-Resident Indians.
(With Inputs from PTI)