Kollamal with her husband in happy times
Kollamal with her husband in happy times Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A young woman accompanying her husband’s body, a visitor wearing a hazmat suit and several workers who lost their jobs are among the those who made it on the two flights to Chennai on Friday, day two of India’s COVID-19-related repatriation from the UAE.

While the body of her husband L.M. Kumar, 35, lay in the cargo, a heartbroken Kollammal V, 29, boarded the Air India Express flight IX540, along with others.

Kollamal with her husband
Kollamal with her husband Image Credit: Supplied

A senior quality control officer with the sanitary department of RAK Ceramics in Ras Al Khaimah, Kumar died of a heart attack while on duty on April 13.

“As usual, he went to work after breakfast. Around 10am, the security came from the campus saying he is in the hospital. They took me to see him. But I didn’t get permission. In the evening, I was told he is no more,” a weeping Kollammal told Gulf News.

Married for three years, Kollammal had joined her husband here two years ago. “He was my everything. He took care of me like a kid. I am still alive because I need to take him back home,” she said.

“I have never travelled alone anywhere. He has left me alone and this is my first journey also alone. No woman should have such a fate,” the bereaved Kollammal said, trying to hold her tears back.

Apart from her, almost 200 workers, 37 pregnant women, some infants and 42 people with medical cases were on the two Chennai-bound Air India Express flights on Friday, the Indian Consulate in Dubai said.

There were around 360 passengers in all on the two flights.

These passengers on the third and fourth flights of the massive repatriation exercise named Vande Bharat Mission included elderly people, stranded tourists and families of those travelling, the mission said.

After a successful operation of the first two flights from the UAE on day one, day two had begun with an unexpected delay of five and a half hours for the first flight to Chennai.

A few passengers, who missed receiving the intimation from the airline about the delay, ended up reaching the airport by 9am.

Kollammal and Gopinath Vasu and his uncle Shankar Adimulu, who had lost their jobs as electricians in Sharjah, were among those who came early. The electricians said Kollammal was kind enough to share some fruits with them.

A new life

In contrast with the heartbreaking story of Kollammal, Indian couple Vasudevan, 31, and Mina, 29, passengers of the same flight, were hopeful to start a family back home.

A new life is waiting for the couple as Mina is pregnant with their first child.

Vasudevan and Mina
Vasudevan and Mina Image Credit: Supplied

The scene outside the departure terminal of Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 2 was also more relaxed as compared to the first day of repatriation.

Most passengers of the delayed flight arrived only after 3pm, after receiving information about the delay.

Many passengers came by taxi and there were only few people to see them off at the airport.

Extra precautions

One of the passengers who stood out for the extra precautions he took was John Philip, a visitor from Avadi in Chennai, who was covered top to bottom in a hazmat suit and protective glasses.

John Philip in PPE
John Philip in PPE Image Credit: Supplied

In a video interview tweeted by the Consulate, he said he was going back home as his family is all alone.

“At this point of time, being with the family is important. There is nothing else that is more important than family. That is the only thing I thought about. I am very thankful to the Indian government for arranging this flight.”

Mixed bag of emotions

Some other passengers told Gulf News that they are leaving the UAE with a heavy heart. The country has been their second home for years, and decades for some.

But it was also time to rebuild their lives back home while others said being repatriated was just a brief pause as they vowed to come back to Dubai soon.

Sheikh Meeran, 40, who worked as a PRO (public relations officer) for a real estate company and a UAE resident for 20 years, said it was time to press the reset button.

Carrying one luggage for check-in and a small backpack, Meeran, said: “I feel sad to leave Dubai at this time. Most of my plans have been abruptly put on hold. I was let go by my company because of the downturn in our business brought about by this global pandemic. But I’m optimistic Dubai will bounce back and come out stronger from this crisis.”

“My company paid for my ticket and I believe I will be recalled soon, when things return to normal. But for now, I’m excited to see my wife and two kids, aged 10 and eight months old,” Meeran added, before entering the terminal.

Building a family back home

The other flight, IX 612, also had another story of a growing family. - that Jayalabdeen, 33, and his wife, Shahutha.

Jayalabdeen, 33, and his wife, Shahutha, with their two-year-old daughter Fatima, have decided to build their family at their hometown in Tamil Nadu. A fourth member is expected to be added in their family as Shahutha is now on her fifth month of pregnancy.

Jayalabdeen with his family
Jayalabdeen with his family Image Credit: Supplied

The couple had lived for four years in Ras al Khaimah, where Jayalabdeen has worked as a health and safety executive for a chemical company.

“We love the UAE for the security and provision it has given us in four years. It’s bye for now but we are willing to return to the country when an opportunity arises,” the couple said.

Consul General of India in Dubai Vipul was at the airport on the second consecutive day to supervise the arrangements.

No shows

With eight no shows reported on Friday having to be replaced by people in the waiting list, the Consulate urged community members that “no seat on these special flights should go empty.”

Four other passengers, who got stuck due to immigration issues were being helped by the mission, it said in a tweet posted at 7:40pm.

Consul Neelu Rohra, who was in charge of the flight, and Uma, a Tamil-speaking official at the consulate, were also present to provide guidance to the passengers.

“Thanks to Dubai Airport, Dubai Police and Dubai Health Authority for their excellent support,” the mission tweeted.

New helpline

The Indian Consulate in Dubai on Friday launched a new free helpline service—a toll free number 800-244-382—to assist Indians flying home on the repatriation flights. “Consulate General of India Dubai is pleased to announce a toll free number to facilitate queries related to COVID-19 and repatriation flights. 800-244-382. We seek your understanding, there is huge traffic on our helpline numbers and it may take some time,” the mission tweeted.

Vipul Image Credit: Anjana Kumar

The new free service is expected to further streamline the repatriation procedures that began on Thursday as there have been changes in the flight timings and other concerns that applicants waiting to fly home might wish to clarify.

This is also expected to ease the burden on the COVID-19 helpline numbers through which the mission facilitates telemedicine consultation and counselling services.

All flights from Terminal 2

All repatriation flights to India are being operated from DXB Terminal 2 by India’s national carriers Air India and Air India Express, Dubai Airport said on Friday.

Dubai Airports also has appealed to family and friends of passengers to help the repatriation operation and the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19) by saying their goodbyes at home and avoid crowding at the airport.

20200507 pasengers
Social distancing at Dubai Airport Image Credit: Supplied

Entry to the terminal was strictly limited to ticketed passengers carrying valid documents and wearing face masks.

“As part of the new pre-check-in procedures, all passengers underwent thermal screening and rapid antibody test, conducted by the Dubai Health Authority’s Airport Medical Centre team,” Dubai Airports said.

Social distancing measures, including signage, floor stickers and separated seating areas have also been implemented across DXB while check-in counters and immigration desks have been fitted with screens to provide additional safety for staff, who were also required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), it added.