Kerala, celebrated as a model for the way it tamed Covid-19 in the initial days of the outbreak, is in the grip of the pandemic again and the government, naturally, is facing tough questions on its testing and containment strategies. With the numbers rising rapidly, the government came up with the idea of insisting on Covid-negative certificates from Keralites returning from abroad, and asked the Centre to arrange for testing through Indian embassies.
But with the Centre expressing its inability to ensure testing in foreign nations and opposition parties turning it into an opportunity to score political points, the state government had to backtrack from its rigid stance and water down the rules. It may have also dawned on the government that the decision defied logic and, hence, was impractical.
It’s a fact that the returning expats account for the majority of cases being reported in the state currently, but that’s no reason to make it more difficult than it already is for them to come back, especially given the circumstances. Most wanting to return are desperate—many have lost jobs and have no means to survive in a foreign country, and others are sick and unable to get medical attention. Returning could be the difference between life and death for many as, according to reports, close to 300 Keralites have died in West Asia due to Covid-19.
Distressed expats, unable to find seats on the repatriation flights, are even chartering planes, paying money they don’t have, in desperate attempts to reach home. The government can ill afford to ignore their plight. The state, as part of its Covid-fighting strategies, is entitled to take all steps it deems necessary to contain the virus, but it is also duty-bound to ensure the well-being of its people, wherever they are. Moreover, it can’t make rules that are beyond its jurisdiction to implement. What it can, however, do is ensure testing and enforce strict isolation norms on all who return so that the fight against Covid-19 is not compromised. It should not place impediments in the way of Keralites’ return because it’s here that they belong.