Celin with daughter
Celin Jacob with her four-year-old daughter Cheryl. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: When Celin Jacob, an assistant chief nursing officer in Dubai, flew home to India with her four-year-old daughter Cheryl on April 10, she was all set to enjoy a week-long break with her father and her husband in Kerala.

However, in an unexpected turn of events, not only has Celin become COVID-19 positive, two days after reaching home, but she is now not even in a position to fly back to the UAE any time soon owing to the suspension of passenger flights from India that will kick in from 11.59pm on April 24.

Celin is one of the several Indian health-care professionals from the UAE who are currently vacationing back home, whose travel plans have been affected due to the entry restrictions that are subject to review after ten days.

Health-care workers from both government and private hospitals, who were unable to reschedule their air tickets to fly back before the flight suspensions set in, have sought exemption from the entry restrictions in order to be able to return to the UAE.

Citing that the unplanned and unexpected manpower shortage due to this can affect the functioning of the health-care institutions they work with, the frontline warriors have urged the authorities to consider exempting them from the entry ban, even as India grapples with a massive surge in the number of COVID-19 positive cases.

Who all are exempted?

According to the announcement by the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and the National Crisis, Emergency and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA), UAE nationals, diplomats from both the countries, official delegates, UAE’s golden residency visa holders and passengers travelling on private business jets are excluded from the entry ban.

The request from the medics is to consider them also for the exemption category.

Physical presence must

Celin, who works with Aster Hospital Mankhool, said she had tried various options to fly back on April 24, but couldn’t. “I could not book our tickets for Friday as my PCR negative test on April 21 would not meet the 48-hour validity [required for flying to Dubai from Thursday]. After the sudden announcement about the flight ban, I could not find any lab that would give me the result the same day and could not book tickets that would help me meet the deadline to fly back. I had even looked at options of flying from Calicut or Kannur, but in vain.”

Celin expressed her concerns about the unexpected delay in getting back to her workplace.

“If I am out of the [hospital] system for many days, it will affect the workflow very significantly. There are inspections and other works happening and remote working won’t help always. I need to be physically present there, just like my other colleagues who are also unable to fly back.”

She said she also wanted to be back in the UAE at the earliest because her mother-in-law, who was visiting Dubai, was alone with her housemaid. “It would be great if the authorities could consider granting an exemption to health-care workers employed in the UAE and allow them to fly back during the flight suspension,” she added.

'Plans in disarray'

Dr Abey Abraham, a specialist physician with Aster Medical Centre, King Faizal Street in Sharjah, is another stranded health-care professional.

Dr Abey Abraham and his wife with his parents
Dr Abey Abraham (left) and his wife with his parents. Image Credit: Supplied

“I had come to India last week to visit my parents, with plans to return to the UAE by this weekend. Now all my plans are in disarray. I request the authorities concerned in the UAE to consider allowing health-care professionals to return at the earliest with full COVID-19 pre-departure checks and on-arrival protocol in place,” Dr Abraham said.

Long-cherished vacation

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another nurse said around six of her colleagues were affected due to the entry restrictions for passengers from India. “None of us could fly home last year because of the pandemic. It was only a couple of months ago that hospitals started allowing us to go on vacation. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues who flew home will now be stuck there due the flight suspension. Everyone is worried that it might be extended because of the spike in COVID cases in India.”

One of her colleagues, who lives in Kottayam district in Kerala, said she could not get any ticket from the nearest airport in Kochi. “I was all set to take an eight-hour journey by road to Kannur after someone said I could fly from there on Friday. Unfortunately, tickets from Kannur also got sold out,” she said.

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Possible extension

Afi Ahmed, managing director of Smart Travel, who helped some health-care professionals to book their tickets for the return journey, said those who did not manage to find seats over the weekend, were worried about a possible extension of flight suspension beyond ten days. “There are various types of expats who are affected by the flight suspension, including those who had gone home for less than a week for important documentation work or for family functions.

“We don’t know if the entry restriction will be extended or not beyond ten days. In such a scenario, I think health-care workers deserve to be exempted from the entry ban.”