KOCHI: Relief was palpable as the first batch of expatriates from the UAE boarded special flights to reach Kerala's Kochi on Thursday - the first day of India's evacuation of citizens stranded abroad.
From elderly parents forced to spend an extended vacation in Dubai to pregnant women faced with the challenge of finding medical help, many Keralites flew back to the safety of home.
Dubai-settled interior designer Abhilash M never thought his parents would get permission to board the flight on Thursday.
The news lifted the spirits of his elderly parents, who were supposed to reach their village in Malappuram on April 22 after a three-month vacation.
The lockdown hit them hard as Abhilash's father, Chandran Nair, 75, is a cardiac patient and had stocked medicines only for three months.
The Tirur-based elderly couple had flown to Dubai on January 26.
“The extended days in Dubai were stressful. From April 1, we were trying to procure medicines, some of which were not available here. We tried to find substitutes. However, some medicines could not be replaced,” Abhilash said over the phone. Hence, he desperately wrote to the Indian Consulate General in Dubai explaining his father's situation.
"We were asked to register on Consulate's website. Initially, only my mother's name, Meenakshikutty, 70, figured on the list. After repeated queries, my father too found a place,” he said.
At 6.30 pm (IST) as Chandran and Meenakshikutty boarded the Kozhikode-bound Air India Express flight, Abhilash heaved a sigh of relief. Like Abhilash, Somi Jose felt a huge weight lifted off his shoulders as his wife Sneha Thomas' flight took off on Thursday evening. Sneha, who worked as a nurse in Abu Dhabi, is 35 weeks pregnant.
"We had no backup," said Somi over phone. "And if anything (untoward) had happened, it would have been tough for us to manage," he said.
Somi said Sneha continued to work till March-end. "But as she entered the seventh month of pregnancy, she stopped working," said Somi.
"She was given a complete health check-up even on Thursday morning and was deemed fit by the doctors. Only if the 'fit-for-travel' sticker was affixed on the passport would the passenger be allowed to check-in."
Passengers of the first #VandeBharatMission flight from Abu Dhabi in #UAE come out of Kochi airport in #Kerala, late on Thursday. The Air India Express flight had 181 passengers on board. @airindiain@DrSJaishankar@MOS_MEA@NewIndianXpress pic.twitter.com/ZWqfDsdSbP— Sovi Vidyadharan (@sovividyadharan) May 7, 2020
During the flight, everyone was wearing masks and gloves. Most of the passengers were elderly, children, and pregnant women.
The cabin crew also used PPEs.
However, there was no extra space between the seats.
"After landing at Karipur airport, health department officials advised us to inform them if we develop any symptom during home quarantine and not to go to the hospital directly," Chandran Nair told The New Indian Express.