KOCHI: Kerala is bracing itself for an influx of Non-Resident Keralites (NRKs) from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) when the skies reopen for passenger flights. For the Gulf country has emerged as a major ‘import’ source of the novel coronavirus, as evident in an overwhelming number of cases in the state.
The head of Emirates airline, in a tweet, announced it has received approval from the UAE authorities to start flying a limited number of passenger flights. "From 06 April, these flights will initially carry travellers outbound from the UAE. Details will be announced soon," tweeted Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive, Emirates Airline & Group.
Emirates has received approval from UAE authorities to start flying a limited number of passenger flights. From 06 April, these flights will initially carry travellers outbound from the UAE. Details will be announced soon. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/fnhLxQanIM— HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum (@HHAhmedBinSaeed) April 2, 2020
However, he did not specify the names of the countries to where Emirates would start flying. An Emirates statement issued early on Friday said the initial flights to commence from Dubai are to London Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, Zurich and Brussels. The statement did not mention any Indian cities in the initial services' list.
The number of coronavirus cases imported to Kerala is worrying for the authorities. Out of the 286 positive cases reported in the state, 200 are imported ones. Of the 200, more than 80 per cent are from the Gulf countries.
"We haven’t received any information on the Emirates flights to Kerala. Usually, we are informed of any such decision is made," said Harikrishnan Namboothiri K, the chief executive officer of NORKA Roots, an agency handling expatriate Keralites’ affairs.
Coronavirus cases in the Gulf countries are rising and the UAE alone has confirmed 611 coronavirus cases, with five deaths as on Thursday. The total number of infections in the six Gulf Arab countries stands at more than 3,700, with 18 deaths.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, meanwhile, in a letter to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, urged the Centre to take immediate steps to lift the ban on passenger flights from the Gulf countries so that Malayalis can return.
"Workers in the Gulf countries often stay in a room with more than one person. This is not an ideal situation in the current scenario," Pinarayi said, adding that relatives of Malayalis who die even without coronavirus are unable to bring bodies to Kerala due to the travel ban.
According to the Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Development Studies (CDS), the Gulf region accounts for about 19 lakh migrants from Kerala. Of this, the UAE alone has 8.3 lakh.
A senior officer at the Cochin International Airport Ltd said the government will have to take all precautions so that passengers arriving from abroad are directly taken to a hospital or quarantine facility. "We cannot allow community spread to happen as home quarantine cannot be relied any more," he said.
The state seems to be aware of the situation. The CM, in his evening briefing in Thiruvananthapuram, said the government will set up one lakh bath-attached rooms to deal with community transmission. For the same, the government will take over lodges, tourist homes, hostels and guest houses, among other buildings. These rooms will be in addition to the COVID-19 hospitals readied to treat patients requiring critical care.
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