THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In a first by a state, Kerala has urged the Centre to consider arranging flights exclusively for bringing COVID-19 positive Keralites from abroad. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also sought to arrange facilities to hold COVID-19 tests for expatriates who want to return with the assistance of Indian embassies in those countries.
The move comes amid the controversy over the state government’s decision to make COVID-19 negative certificate mandatory for all expatriates coming from the Gulf countries on chartered flights.
In the letter, Pinarayi said Centre could ensure the availability of test kits in countries having large Indian diaspora. The embassies should be entrusted with the responsibility of holding tests for those unable to undergo tests at their own expense, he said.
“If there is any difficulty in holding PCR tests, facilities for conducting rapid tests should be arranged. This is to avoid a situation of COVID-19-positive people mingling with those without infection,” the letter said.
However, bringing COVID-19 patients on special flights is easier said than done, said experts.
“Since enclosed spaces are to be considered as a hotbed for transmission of virus, the state should think twice if it plans to bring COVID-19-positive people. Bringing COVID-19 patients together involves risk as it could increase the viral load of each patient, even if they wear PPE kits,” Dr P Gopikumar, state secretary, IMA -Kerala. Further, this would also put the flight crew at risk, he said.
Meanwhile, Health Minister KK Shailaja said a final decision on making COVID-19 negative certificates mandatory for expats will be taken only after the meeting of the PM with chief ministers on Tuesday.
“The state has only put forth a suggestion and has not taken any decision. The suggestion was mooted considering safety of people coming to the state,” she said. Earlier, the state had made it clear that from June 20, all private chartered flights departing to Kerala from West Asian countries should carry only passengers who have been tested negative for COVID-19.
A test certificate to that effect should be carried by the passenger. Former chief minister Oommen Chandy, in a letter to Pinarayi, had demanded that this clause be withdrawn.
Change in strategy
The state has now decided to admit asymptomatic patients and those with mild symptoms to COVID-19 First-Line Treatment Centres and not to dedicated COVID-19 Hospitals.