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Kochi: Passengers arrive via Air India flight at Kochi International Airport, as part of an evacuation operation due to closure of commercial air services amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, in Kochi, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (PTI Photo)(PTI10-06-2020_000237B) Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to facilitate COVID-19 tests for stranded Indians getting repatriated from abroad through Indian missions.

His Facebook post revealing this comes a day after the state government’s order, which mandated COVID-19 negative certificate from returnees on charter flights from the Middle East beginning from June 20, kicked up a controversy in the UAE and other countries.

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Kerala Chief Minister Pnarayi Vijayan Image Credit: Supplied

In the Facebook post, Vijayan said the Indian government should ensure the availability of COVID-19 test kits in countries where Indian expats live.

“The letter has sought to instruct embassies to provide free testing facilities to those who are unable to pay for their test. If PCR test cannot be done, then facilities for rapid test should be arranged,” the post said.

Vijayan opined that a scenario in which those who test positive for COVID-19 travelling with those who are not infected should be avoided.

Special flights for COVID positive passengers

“It has also been urged that special flights should be arranged to transport those who tested positive,” his post added.

In a related development, Kerala’s health minister K. K. Shailaja told Malayalam media that any further decision on the demand for COVID-19 negative certificate from passengers on charter flights would be taken after the Chief Minister’s video conference with the Prime Minister that is expected to take place on Tuesday.

“The rule was introduced to protect the health of the returning expats,” reports from Kerala quoted the minister as saying.

The order had cited an increase in the number of COVID cases in the state among those who have returned from the Middle East.

As reported by Gulf News on Saturday, several expat organisations chartering flights and some social workers in the UAE had come down on the rule citing that it would not be practically feasible to implement it, causing further delay in the return of several stranded Indians desperate to fly home during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the UAE, rapid tests (IgG and IgM) for coronavirus antibodies are already done on all passengers on the repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission free of cost by the UAE government, the Consul General of India in Dubai Vipul had told Gulf News on Saturday.

The service has been extended to charter flights also, according to organisations chartering flights to speed up the repatriation procedures.

In this scenario, it is expected that charter flights from the UAE might be allowed to fly home stranded Indians though the state government is yet to clarify it.

Kerala has approved the highest number of charter flights and special repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission to facilitate the return of Malayali expats who form the largest group Indian expats in the UAE and other Gulf countries and top the list of Indians who have registered for repatriation.