Dubai: Kerala making COVID-19 negative certificate mandatory for all returnees from abroad will not affect stranded Indians getting repatriated from the UAE, a top official told Gulf News.
Reports from the Indian state on Wednesday said the government, after a cabinet meeting, maintained that a COVID-19 negative certificate for returnees from abroad will be mandatory not only when they are flying on charter flights as announced last week, but also on the special repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission.
However, Dr K. Ellangovan, principal secretary for industries and Norka Department, said the state government has given three options for COVID-19 tests for returnees including the antibody tests, which are already being done at UAE airports.
Speaking to Gulf News over the phone from Kerala, Dr Ellangovan said: “We are giving three options to conduct COVID-19 tests for passengers from abroad.”
The latest condition from the government is that either RT-PCR or TrueNat or antibody test results need to be out within 48 hours of travel and only those who test COVID-negative shall be allowed to travel, he said.
The RT-PCR test which used to detect the presence of viral RNA of coronavirus in a test sample through a nasal swab is currently the gold standard confirmatory test for the diagnosis of COVID-19.
India has approved TrueNat, which was used for testing drug-resistant tuberculosis, also as a quick PCR test for screening COVID-19.
During a press conference held later in the evening in state capital Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday, Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also clarified that the state would approve the rapid antibody tests done at UAE airports.
He urged airlines to implement a similar testing system for returnees in cooperation with the health authorities in other countries in the region where such tests are not done.
What is done in the UAE
In the UAE, rapid tests (IgG and IgM) for detecting coronavirus antibodies are already being done on all passengers on repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission free of cost by the UAE government, the Consul General of India in Dubai Vipul told Gulf News earlier.
The service had been extended to charter flights also, according to organisations chartering flights to speed up the repatriation procedures.
The central government of India had 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. However, these tests only help determine if a passenger has had a recent coronavirus infection or developed immunity after a recent infection.
Since the passengers from the UAE already undergo the antibody tests at the airports, the new rule would not create any concern for them, Dr Ellangovan explained.
He said the three options for COVID tests have been conveyed to charter flight operators who have been asked to implement the rule from June 20.
When it was pointed out that the passengers from the UAE are not issued any COVID-19 negative certificate, instead a fit-to-travel stamp on their passport, he acknowledged that it would be sufficient for travel.
The state government urged the central government to arrange COVID tests forreturnees through the embassies, especially in the Middle East countries, as not even antibody tests are conducted at airports in some countries in the region.
“When untested persons are travelling together and if there are a few cases of COVID-positive persons, the entire set of passengers become high risk contacts and pose a serious threat for the spread of infection,” the government had said.
The state’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had also written to the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi to arrange special flights to transport those testing positive for coronavirus.