THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Upholding its tag as a responsible tourism destination, Kerala repatriated over 90 per cent of foreign nationals stranded in the state in the wake of the novel coronavirus-induced lockdown. The rest includes 210 Russians, and around 100 others from various countries who have opted to stay back in God’s Own Country until COVID-19 issues are addressed globally. Between March 31 and April 19, 1,329 travellers were repatriated, with 200 more set to be flown home by April 25.
As on March 22, around 8,500 foreign nationals were in Kerala. As it became clear the country was heading towards a lockdown, a good number of travellers left for their home countries by March 11 and 22. By March 22, international flight movement from the state came to a standstill. But the state machinery started reaching out to stranded foreigners by setting up help desks in each district and through social media.
In a week’s time, details of foreigners in the state were collected. While a few contacted Kerala Tourism through the help desks, most responded through their respective consulates. The department then coordinated their transportation, accommodation and inter-district movement. As a majority of the guests chose to pay for their expenses -- some handled it directly while consulates chipped in for others, Kerala Tourism had to bear the expenses of only a handful of foreigners.
At the same time, the state bore the expenses of the UK nationals deboarded in Kochi after one of them tested positive for the coronavirus. All the seven foreign nationals who tested positive for Covid-19 were treated to recovery before being seen off. “While Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram airports were the state’s main boarding centres, the state government took some foreign nationals to Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Goa by road to help them board flights to respective countries,” said Kerala Tourism joint director Raj Kumar, in charge of the repatriation of foreign nationals in Kochi. UK nationals constituted the highest number of foreigners stranded as visitors from that part of the world continue to top the list of international travellers to the state, totalling one-fourth of all overseas visitors.