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Coronavirus quarantine: Airlines experience surge from UAE passengers to India

Ashwani Kumar and Dhanusha Gokulan/Dubai
Filed on March 18, 2020 | Last updated on March 18, 2020 at 05.29 am
Coronavirus, quarantine, Indian expats, Airlines, experience, surge, UAE passengers, India

(Photo by Ryan Lim/Khaleej Times)

Indian expats express concerns over lack of clarity of quarantine facilities.

Several hundred Indian expatriates and visitors rushed to UAE airports on Tuesday, March 17, in a bid to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine that has been put into place for all flight passengers from UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait by the Government of India.

On Monday, March 16, the Indian Ministry of Health extended its compulsory quarantine for a minimum of 14 days for all passengers coming in from and transiting through the above-mentioned GCC nations. The decision will come into effect from 1200 GMT (4pm UAE time) on March 18 at the port of first departure, confirmed Consul General of India to Dubai, Vipul. These instructions are temporary measures and shall be in force till March 31, and will be reviewed subsequently.

As expected, there were a rush of Indian travellers at the Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah airports. Even though there weren't any visible rush at the airport counters, Indian airline officials in the UAE said they had several new bookings and preponing of flights.

An official statement from Air India said, "Currently, we are experiencing an extraordinarily high volume of calls in our office. We are constantly working to cope with the demand."

A surge in bookings, preponing of bookings

A senior officer with India's flag carrier Air India in Dubai told Khaleej Times, "It has been very busy since the announcement of the compulsory quarantine. No one wants to travel to India and get quarantined. So, obviously, we had several new bookings, preponing of flights."

The official also said flydubai's decision to cancel flights to India from March 17 and 31 also led to a surge in bookings at other airlines such as Air India Express, Indigo Airlines, Air Arabia, and Spice Jet. Jino Mathew, an Indian expatriate travelling to Karnataka said, "My flight was on Saturday. I changed the dates to Tuesday, March 17, to avoid the quarantine. I had to go on a personal emergency visit which cannot be avoided."

No rush was seen in Abu Dhabi

Four afternoon flights to the Indian sectors didn't see any last-minute rush ahead of the 14-day quarantine to be imposed back home from March 18. Passengers, though wary, had their reasons to fly.
M. Mohamed (name changed) had his entire family at Terminal 3 to see him off.

"They are all scared. But work can't stop. I have urgent business in Kochi. This is unavoidable," he said after a long embrace from mother and then a longer one from the wife. "It feels like going for a war." Another passenger, who was flying to Mumbai, prayed for a safe journey and health of those travelling with him.

"I have finished my three-month project. I have time left on my visa but want to reach home before the quarantine process starts. You never know what all is in store."

Where are we going to be quarantined, ask expats?

Furthermore, Indian expatriates Khaleej Times reached out to said their greatest concern is the lack of clarity over the quarantine facilities they will be placed into. Vipul said, "There is no clarity in this matter yet. We are also awaiting details from India."

While travellers to the southern- state of Kerala and Maharashtra are being asked to home- quarantine, Delhi is offering a pay-and-use quarantine facility in hotels near the airport. Reports have emerged that travellers in Maharashtra are being given stamps on their hands to be identified as 'home- quarantined'.

Calls that Khaleej Times made to the Press Information Bureau in India went unanswered. Airports, airline officials, and other official departments also said there is no clarity that has been provided in this matter either.

Deepak Mhaisekar, Divisional Commissioner of Pune told Indian media that Maharashtra has a quarantine facility for 770 beds, however, it is unclear if the beds are for travellers from abroad or patients in India.

Furthermore, the Government of India's Bureau of Immigration has issued a 247 helpline to answer queries regarding Visa and travel restrictions, as well as to facilitate foreigners in India in availing consular services. Calls to these numbers are also going unanswered.

dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com

ashwani@khaleejtimes.com


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