OZHIKODE: A bizarre quarantine rule has got many Saudi Arabia-bound Keralites stuck in the Maldives, the transit point. The unexpected overstay in the island country has resulted in many of them losing jobs, besides paying exorbitant resort bills.
The strange rule states that a Covid negative person cannot leave the resort unless all occupants in the resort/hotel test negative for the infection. It is not clear whether the new rule is enforced by the Maldives government or by the resorts themselves to fleece the transit passengers and make a quick buck.
A majority of the stranded passengers from Kerala have gone there under the 'Saudi quarantine via Maldives' package of travel agencies, costing Rs 1.15 lakh per person for 14-day quarantine, food and RT-PCR test expenses in the island country.
"My flight was on May 11. I had tested negative in the RT-PCR test done after completing the two-week quarantine in a resort here. But on May 10, the resort people told me that I couldn't board the flight as four others staying in another resort apartment were positive. I have neither shared a room nor interacted with any one of them. I missed the flight. My entry visa to Saudi Arabia will expire on May 18. Now, I have been asked to take another two-week quarantine here. I can't join duty on time and I will lose my job," lamented a Keralite stuck in the Maldives.
The resort staff had asked him to pay another Rs 43,000 towards food expenses for the next 14 days or leave. He says that there are many such Keralites stuck in other resorts in various islands of the country as well.
"The cheapest Kerala-Saudi Arabia air fare during normal time is Rs 20,000. But due to Covid second wave, Saudi Arabia has suspended direct flights from India, forcing us to take the transit routes through the Maldives, Nepal and Bahrain. On a daily basis, flights from various countries were being suspended, so I opted to fly through the Maldives shelling out more than Rs 1 lakh. It's only for saving my employment and visa that I dared to travel in such a difficult time. Now I have landed in a much bigger crisis without a single rupee in hand to spend," he said.
As days pass, the stranded people also fear that the Saudi government will change the arrival rule any moment considering the soaring number of Covid cases.
Meanwhile, Kozhikode MP M K Raghavan has brought the issue to the notice of the Union External Affairs Ministry and Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives. "Some of those stuck there had been allowed to go after they questioned the new rule. It meant the rule is a flexible one. Hence, immediate
diplomatic interference is needed to save our people suffering in the Maldives," the MP pointed out in his letter.