India-UAE travel: 73 Aster medics return in special Emirates flights
The team includes existing healthcare workers already employed across different units of the Aster network in the UAE.
A happy lot of 73 Indian healthcare workers who were stranded in India due to the flight ban, were flown to the UAE on Wednesday, after obtaining special approval from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), the Aster DM group announced. Out of a total of 250 medical staff from Aster Hospitals and Clinics, who are stranded in India due to the flight ban on April 25 this year, this was the first batch of doctors, nurses and paramedics who were able to travel back.
In order to travel safely with all Covid safety measures in place, the group of 73 was divided into two parts and flown on two special Emirates flights that landed at the Dubai International Airport in the early hours of Wednesday.
While most of the healthcare workers from the group were existing UAE residents who were stuck in India while on annual or emergency leave when the flight ban was announced, some new recruits were also present. These new recruits were medical professionals from India who had experience in intensive care units and expertise to treat Covid-19 patients, Aster group said in a statement.
Dr. Abdul Majeed, pediatrics and neonatology specialist at Aster Hospital Mankhool, was one of the 73 who returned on the special flights to Dubai. An existing UAE resident, Majeed who has been with Aster for the last four years, had to rush to India two months ago when his brother fell critically ill due to Covid pneumonia. Despite being away from work, Dr Majeed was in touch with his patients and was following up and guiding them through phone calls and messages.
“I am glad to be back, firtsly because the Covid situation is much more controlled here in the UAE, my second home and I feel more confident about my safety here; and secondly I am happy that now I will be able to perform my duties better as this is the time we frontline workers are needed the most. So many of my patients have been waiting to see me and get their treatment done.”
Dr Majeed was also happy to be reunited with his family – wife and four young kids, with the youngest being just a year old, who were finding it hard to function without him.
Talking about the necessary precautions all medical staff had to take in order to get back to the UAE, Dr Majeed said: “We took a total of three PCR tests in order to travel to the UAE. The first test was taken 48 hours before we travelled, another was done at the airport four hours before the flight; and one test we took on landing in Dubai; We then stayed at a hotel for day until our PCR results came after which we have been asked to quarantine at home for the next seven days. Following that we will get another test done again and then we will be able to rejoin work.”
Another healthcare worker who returned was a Covid ward nurse Tija Kurian, who had left for India on April 16 on an emergency leave as her sons – 8 and 10 year olds - fell sick and were hospitalised. Kurian, who was partially vaccinated after which she had contracted Covid, is one of the few who have taken three different vaccines in order to return to the UAE.
“ I took my first dose of vaccine in Dubai in January, after which I contracted Covid so I couldn’t take my second dose immediately. I then left for India and took the Covidshield vaccine in India in order to return to the UAE – as only vaccinated people are allowed. However, before my second dose, our hospital managed to arrange this special flight and I am back in Dubai and have already booked by Pfizer vaccination dose after checking with the DHA.”
Although Kurian said she was happy to be with her family in India, she was worried for not only her job but more importantly about the crucial duties she was in-charge of at Covid wards in her hospital - Aster Hospital Qusais.
“ In my absence there was a new girl who was working in my place and since she was new, I had to be in touch with her at all times to guide and support her. I am glad to be back so I can now deliver my role responsibly,” she said.
The healthcare group approached the DHA for special travel permission for flights to bring them back to the UAE. “The DHA provided the permission and forwarded the approved list of travelers to Emirates Airline,” Aster group stated.
Apart from 250 staff still stuck in India, around 120 new recruits of Aster Hospitals and Clinics are also waiting to fly to the UAE to join on the Covid frontlines here in the UAE.
Dr Sherbaz Bichu, CEO of Aster Hospitals and Clinics, UAE, said the team had all the necessary approvals from the foreign ministry.
“Our healthcare professionals travelled from different parts of India — Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu (Pondicherry), Maharashtra (Mumbai), Hyderabad and Madhya Pradesh (Indore) — to Cochin and Bangalore (airports) on July 7 for their flights.
“We express our heartfelt gratitude to the Dubai Government, DHA, Dubai Airports Authority and Emirates Airline for all the support extended to Aster in making this arrangement possible. It was critical for our staff to come back and fill the gaps across the network of hospitals in Dubai during this pandemic,” Dr Bichu added.
Suspension of inbound passengers from India was first announced by the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) on April 24 for an extendable period of 10 days. Following this, authorities said on May 5 that the suspension of entry of travellers from India would be indefinite.
On June 19, the Dubai Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announced fresh protocols, permitting the safe resumption of travel from India to Dubai on June 23. However, flight operations are yet to resume.
Furthermore, Dubai’s flagship carrier Emirates Airlines informed its passengers on social media that flights from India to Dubai remain suspended at present.
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