KOCHI: Keralites stranded abroad due to the Covid-19 outbreak will start reaching the state on Thursday as India begins its biggest evacuation exercise since the Gulf War in 1990-91. Air India Express flights carrying 179 passengers from Abu Dhabi and 189 from Dubai will touch down at the Kochi and Karipur airports respectively on the first day of the evacuation’s first phase running from May 7 to 13.
The Abu Dhabi-Kochi flight is expected to arrive at 9.45 pm and the aircraft from Dubai at 10.30 pm. A third flight which was scheduled to arrive in Kochi from Doha on Thursday has been rescheduled for Saturday. The Air India Express crew members are ready for the mission — a crucial one for the Indian government — and they got the all-clear on Wednesday after testing negative for the coronavirus.
The returnees will have to go in for 14-day quarantine -- one-week mandatory at the government facilities and the remaining days at their homes. Pregnant women will be allowed to go home straight from the airport and quarantine themselves there for 14 days. People above the age of 75 and children under 10 will also be permitted to go home.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said all passengers would undergo Covid test at the boarding points, but Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said he had not received any response to the letter he wrote to the PM in this regard. “All arrangements are in place. Those who are travelling must take all safety precautions and be very cautious right from leaving their residence to the airport,” said Pinarayi.
The CM added police officers in the rank of DIG have been assigned to take care of the safety of the state’s four international airports and the Kochi Port where the expatriates will be arriving. A total of 3,150 persons from the GCC countries and Malaysia will be flown in on 15 flights during the first leg. Nearly 5 lakh Keralites have expressed interest through the Norka- Roots website to return and the evacuation — if the pandemic situation does not improve — might last for months. A total of 1.7 lakh people were brought back from Kuwait during the Gulf war in the biggest evacuation ever.
‘Centre’s priority will be emergency cases’
Former diplomat P S Sasikumar, who served in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and UAE, told TNIE that the diplomatic missions would be given full freedom to choose the passengers to be sent home. “The highly-skilled personnel, professionals and well-paid persons will not come back. The diplomatic missions will be careful to ensure that illegal immigrants in these countries do not use the opportunity to sneak back into India. Yes, they are our citizens, but the Centre’s priority will be emergency cases,” he said.