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Indian national returning from Dubai on a special flight , wait for a check before boarding on a bus taking them to a quarantine facility , amid concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus at Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport on the outskirts of Amritsar on May 13,2020. / AFP / NARINDER NANU Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: India reducing its mandatory paid-quarantine period for returning overseas citizens from 14 days to seven has been welcomed by stranded nationals in the UAE seeking repatriation due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) on Sunday made it mandatory for stranded Indians arriving from abroad to undergo seven days of paid institutional quarantine at their own cost, followed by seven days of self-quarantine at home, as opposed to an earlier 14 day quarantine period entirely spent in government arranged facilities.

Only in exceptional circumstances, such as distress, pregnancy, a death in the family, serious illness or a parent accompanied by children under the age of 10 - as assessed by receiving states - can someone spend the entire 14 day quarantine at home, said the ministry.

The reduction in the number of days returning expats need to stay in government-arranged facilities from 14 to seven has come as a breather for returning epxats who did not fall into exceptional categories as they no longer have to pay for the full 14 days.

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Indian nationals returning from Dubai wait for a minibus to take them to quarantine Image Credit: AFP

The fact that those who have already lost their jobs now won’t have to pay for a full 14 days was seen as a relief for blue collar workers.

Yet many will still need the seven days covered as they are returning in dire financial circumstances, said social workers supporting cases and applicants who have registered to fly home.

What are the quarantine costs?

According to the Indian Consulate in Dubai, quarantine costs are largely the same across the country except in states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu where community groups have come forward to provide quarantine facilities for free to everyone except those preferring to stay in hotels and resorts.

In Delhi and even in Kerala, if people are opting for five-star hotel facilities, they need to pay Rs3100 (Dh150) plus taxes per night, including meals, Neeraj Agrawal, consul for Press, Information and Culture told Gulf News.

“If there are two persons from the same family, the second person can be accommodated in the same room with an additional cost of Rs1000 (Dh48). They must be paying around Rs4800 (Dh232) for stay and food per night.”

If it is a three-star facility, he said the rate is Rs2000 (Dh96) plus taxes per night and for normal institutional facilities, Rs1000 (Dh48) per night including three meals.

Additional burden for those in distress

Abhijithson, who lost his job as a video editor and applied to fly home after his wife developed a health issue said the payment for quarantine is an additional burden for people like him.

“I am going back as a pauper,” the Sharjah resident told Gulf News on Monday.

He said the couple depended on free meals distributed by the volunteers for over a month and got a free ticket sponsored by the Madhyamam group.

“I still have a loan to settle back home. I will have to depend on relatives and friends for my wife’s treatment. I may be able to manage the paid-quarantine facility with the help of them. But I hope the government will make arrangements for free quarantine for people like us and also blue-collar workers who are in an even worse situation.”

K.V. Shamsudheen, an Indian social worker who has been educating community members about financial discipline and supporting several stranded Indians, welcomed the central government’s decision to reduce the paid quarantine period.

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Police personnel stand guard as Indian nationals returning from Dubai board a mini bus to quarantine Image Credit: AFP

“This is definitely a relief for many people in distress who are returning home. But, I would request the government to consider making it free of cost for deserving people like workers who lost jobs and stranded visitors. There are many who are struggling to pay even for their tickets and several community groups are supporting them.”

He said there could be several people who can afford to live in hotels and resorts as their reason for returning home may not be due to their poor financial status but other personal emergencies.

“Such people can be charged. But, we know there are several workers who are flying home after losing jobs and many visitors have been stranded without any money. They need to be supported with free quarantine facilities,” he said.

Agrawal said the consulate is well aware of and sympathetic to workers who would find it difficult to afford the quarantine payment.

“There is definitely a mechanism in place and that is why an undertaking is taken from applicants prior to departure that they are agreeing to undergo paid mandatory quarantine at the landing destination.”

“But, state governments and relief agencies are taking care of such people. We have not received any complaints from those who returned from here.”

“We are pretty sure that the states will take care of the needy workers. We had sent many such workers to Bihar and Delhi etc. State governments have been taking care of them.”

Companies chartering flights must sponsor quarantine

He said the Indian missions have also made it mandatory for companies applying to fly their workers on charter flights to bear the expenses of their quarantine period, apart from that for their medical tests and tickets.

“The government will approve companies to charter flights only if they fulfil these requirements.”

The diplomat also clarified that the government, as announced on Sunday, has not authorised any groups to charter flights or collect money on its behalf.

Though the central government has revised the mandatory quarantine rule, Agrawal pointed out that state governments have been authorised to modify it as per their prevailing conditions.

“It depends on the arrival stations. For example, in Srinagar (Kashmir), people who returned from here have been told to take COVID-19 test and be in quarantine till the result comes out. Those with symptoms have to stay for 14 days while those who test negative can proceed to their homes.”