Cochin International Airport in Kerala passengers
Passengers leave Cochin International Airport in Kerala after arriving from Dubai. Image Credit: ANI

Dubai: The government of the south Indian state of Kerala has made the on-arrival COVID-19 RT-PCR test free for those coming from abroad, including passengers from the UAE. Kerala Health minister K.K. Shailaja made the announcementand in Kerala and said all international passengers will continue to be tested on arrival as per the latest travel protocol announced by India’s federal government.

The new requirement of mandatory COVID-19 RT-PCR test came into effect on February 23, following which, several expats in the UAE had sought exemption from the test fee, which is charged at different rates at different airports in India.

In Kerala, the cost of the test was capped at Rs1,700 (Dh84.74).

As reported by Gulf News, Indian expats’ demand for exemptions in COVID-19 tests for travelling to India from UAE had gathered steam with social workers and community groups joining the campaign. Social workers had begun campaigning for government funding for the test while some expats had delayed travel expecting change in rule for kids.

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Though the test has been made free of cost, the minister has clarified that all international passengers will still have to be tested due to the high number of cases and the spread of new variants of coronavirus.

Social workers in the UAE have welcomed the government’s move. “Kerala is the first state to announce free on-arrival test for expats. I congratulate minister Shailaja teacher and the government for making this welcoming decision. This will be a big relief to the expatriates,” said K.V. Shamsudheen of Sharjah-based Pravasi Bandhu Welafre Trust, who had written a letter to Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan to stop the “self-paid” test on arrival in India.

“Kerala is always a good example in supporting the Non Resident Indians. I hope the Kerala model will be followed by other states in India,” Shamsudheen added.

Consider quarantine exemption for those testing negative

The move was welcomed by Ashraf Thamarassery, another prominent social worker and previous winner of India’s Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award for NRIs, who had also demanded that the on-arrival test cost should be borne by the government as it would be an additional burden on several Indian expats flying home He thanked the government for paying heed to the plea of the expatriates. However, he said the government should also consider exempting those testing negative on arrival from the mandatory seven days’ home quarantine like in Dubai.

In Kerala, international passengers have to follow home quarantine for seven days and need to be tested again on the eighth day. They are allowed to end the quarantine if they test negative. If they are not going for the test, they must observe 14 days’ home quarantine. Anyone developing symptoms must go for a test.

“I don’t think there is any need to impose home quarantine when the passengers test negative before travelling and on arrival. In rare cases, if anyone develops symptoms they must quarantine and get tested if needed. I hope the Kerala government will follow the rules adopted in Dubai where people who test negative on arrival need not quarantine once the negative test result is received,” said Thamarassery.

‘My child was not tested’

The health minister did not announce any exemption to the on-arrival RT-PCR test for infants and young children. However, a Dubai resident said his three-year-old daughter did not have to undergo the RT-PCR test on arrival in Kerala on Thursday. Dubai resident Mohammed S, who had initially thought of delaying his family’s travel to Kerala hoping for a change in rule for the on-arrival test for children, said he later changed his mind considering the upcoming exams of one of his sons studying in Kerala.

Hence, he said he sent his wife and six children home on Thursday. “They flew to Kozhikode International Airport. My wife said my three-year-old daughter was not tested. That shows it is the discretion of the officials there. And the cost of the test was also less as compared to the Rs1,700 charged in other Kerala airports. In Kozhikode, they charged only Rs1,350 per passenger.”