Dubai: Kerala has made COVID-19 negative certificates mandatory for all passengers getting repatriated to the Indian state from the Middle East from June 20.
“Beginning June 20, all private chartered flights departing to Kerala from Middle East countries shall carry only passengers who have been tested for COVID-19 infection and shown to be negative. A test certificate to that effect should be carried by the passenger,” the order dated June 11 stated.
“This condition applies to all flights for which consent letters have already been issued earlier. In the case of COVID-19 positive persons requiring urgent medical attention, the provision of air ambulance may be availed,” it said.
The order has cited an increase in the number of COVID cases in the state among those who have returned from the Middle East.
“This clearly shows that those co-passengers, who were not infected earlier, have been exposed to these infected persons during the travel and could have become asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus. This will lead to an alarming spread of infection in Kerala, if effective remedial measures are not in put in place,” it stated.
The new condition set in view of the fast-developing situation has been conveyed to the Ministry of External Affairs for necessary action from their end, according to the state’s principal secretary for industries and Norka Department Dr. K. Ellangovan.
When contacted, Consul General of India in Dubai Vipul told Gulf News on Saturday: “We have seen the order of the Kerala government. We are looking at how it will be implemented.”
He confirmed that the state has not issued any such order with regard to the passengers on the Indian government’s special repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission.
“In any case, every passenger on the Vande Bharat Mission flights undergoes COVID-19 antibody tests with the gracious support from the UAE government which is conducting the rapid test free of cost for all passengers unlike in some other countries,” said Vipul.
As of now, the Indian government has made only thermal screening mandatory for returning passengers. Those displaying typical symptoms are also not allowed to travel.
In the UAE, the Indian missions had stipulated that passengers flying out on repatriation flights must clear the IgG/IgM tests –the rapid blood test. These tests help determine only if a passenger has had a recent coronavirus infection or developed immunity after a recent infection.
However, people have to undergo RT-PCR test to effectively verify if they are currently positive for COVID-19. The PCR test is used to detect the presence of viral RNA in a test sample, through a nasal swab.
Lacks clarity, draws flak
Kerala’s new order has drawn flak from social workers and those chartering repatriation flights to Kerala from the UAE.
Some of them who spoke to Gulf News said the order lacks clarity and not feasible to implement and sought an immediate revision or withdrawal.
“First of all, the order doesn’t specifically say which test they want the passengers to undergo,” said N.P. Ramachandran, vice president, UAE central committee of Indian Arts and Cultural Society (INCAS), who has written to the Kerala government seeking immediate withdrawal of the order.
“Passengers are going by chartered flights not because they are able to afford higher fares, but because of non- availability of sufficient Vande Bharat flights. Moreover, this will be an additional burden on the already suffering passengers because of the job loss and other issues,” he stated in the letter that demanded immediate withdrawal of the notification.
“The challenge here is it takes a minimum of three days to get the result of swab test,” said Venkatesh. S. secretary general of PIOCCI (Persons of Indian Origin Chamber of Commerce and Industry), an Indian business platform that has chartered eight flights to south Indian states from the UAE.
“Scheduling a charter flight depends on various factors including multiple approvals. It will not be practically possible for a person flying to get the test done and be ready if the flight gets the final approval only a day before, just how it happened in the case of one of the flights that we chartered,” he said.
Social workers Naseer Vatanappally and advocate Hashik. T.K said the order puts additional burden on people desperately trying to fly home, hinder repatriation attempts as it is not easy to get PCR test done as per people’s convenience and there is no guarantee that a person who got tested cannot catch the virus within this 48 hours.
Puthur Rahman, national committee president of Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) said the state government is showing a double standard with the new order.
“We are trying to help people fly home soon as soon as possible by chartering flights. On one hand, the state government has given us approval for 100 charter flights from the UAE. On the other hand, they are coming up with new rule like this which is not applicable to the Vande Bharat flights.”
Though the move might discourage people chartering flights, he said KMCC would not give up on its mission and would even fund the COVID test charges for deserving passengers if need arises.
If the order is not revoked, INCAS officials¬ said Kerala should ask its Norka department that caters to the expatriates to bear the cost for the test.
O.V. Musthafa, a Norka director in the UAE, said the order could be interpreted in different ways as some countries are not doing any tests on returning passengers.
“There should be some checks in place for the state government. Otherwise the situation [of coronavirus cases] will go beyond its control. We are expecting a clarification on the order as soon as possible,” he said.