Coronavirus: Expat groups 'upset' as Kerala makes Covid-19 test mandatory for returnees
The requirement of Covid-19 test is mandatory from June 20.
UAE-based expatriate groups are upset over a Kerala government decision to make Covid-19 negative certificate mandatory for stranded residents to return to the south Indian state via chartered flights.
On Saturday, K. Ellangovan, Principal Secretary, Kerala Government, told Khaleej Times over the phone: "Covid-19 test results are required for people coming on chartered flights from Gulf countries. All passengers need to have a test certificate. The requirement of Covid-19 test is mandatory from June 20."
Ellangovan noted the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was notified about the additional requirement.
Currently, passengers undertake antibody rapid tests at airports. The Kerala government has now made it mandatory for a swab test to be done. However, this requirement is not for those taking flights as part of India's repatriation mission, Vande Bharat.
'The poor people burdened further'
Companies and associations operating chartered flights said this requirement would affect travel plans of many stranded Malayalis.
Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) Abu Dhabi, which started operations from Saturday with its first chartered flight of 172 passengers to the Kannur district, said it hoped the Kerala government would review the decision.
"All passengers flew after taking rapid tests. This is the same test done for passengers taking special flights of Vande Bharat Mission. We don't understand why there is a need for additional tests only for those on chartered flights. Rapid tests are an effective way to detect positive cases," KMCC Abu Dhabi president Shukoorali Kallungal said.
He stressed the poor would be "further burdened financially" with such mandatory tests. "The Kerala government must bear expenses for such tests as it's not right to ask the distressed, unemployed people to pay."
KMCC Abu Dhabi has received approval to operate 40 private chartered flights and plan to repatriate more than 6,800 stranded passengers to Kerala.
'This is a practical challenge'
Venkatesh S., secretary general, Persons of Indian Origin Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PIOCCI), which operates chartered flights, said the mandatory test is a new challenge for them.
"We got approval for a chartered flight to Kochi with 24 hours notice. It's not possible to do a Covid-19 test and come with the result within a day. We have approval for eight flights in our first phase till June 19 and similar numbers in the second phase to south Indian states, including Kerala. Either we need to have approvals three-four days beforehand or all passengers need to keep tests ready. It's a practical challenge."
The state government has reportedly asked missions abroad to give their views on the topic.
Negative test result process in UAE
A Covid-19 test certificate is mandatory for passengers of all chartered flights going to Kerala, including those for which approval letters have already been issued.
For people who take such tests at screening centres or drive-through facilities, they receive an SMS informing them they are negative and it will also be updated on Al Hosn App. The app gives an individual access to Covid-19 test results.
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