When the world looks scared at Covid-19 wreaking havoc, the Indian expatriate community abroad and their dependent families back home are in dire distress. While only two among the Nor-Resident Keralites (NRK) died inKerala, there are 24 others who lost their lives abroad, majority of which happened in America and Gulf countries. The total confirmed infected in Kerala number 357 at the time of writing this, but in Kuwait alone over 400 Non-Resident Indians (NRI) have tested positive, majority of whom are from Kerala. The case of Malayali Covid-infected patients in other countries is not much different. Naturally their immediate and extended families are all in anxiety. The resultant sense of insecurity calls for immediate attention from state and central governments who should get in touch with respective countries' governments to ensure their security of life and required treatment arrangements. There is a widespread grouse that Indian missions in several countries have not taken up the matter sufficiently seriously. The urgent need is to rectify this situation, and with the co-operation and involvement of voluntary organisations to ensure that adequate mechanisms are put in place for medical attention and distribution of essential food in labour camps and residences of single living NRIs.
Gulf countries have been taking a series of precautionary steps to prevent the spread of Covid. Most of the countries have banned social contacts, converted apartment complexes into isolation wards for the treatment of patients and prepared hotels for isolated stay of families of the infected. All that said, the health care sector in the Gulf region is not equipped enough to overcome the health emergency imposed by Covid. When even well-developed countries that boasted of quality health care, have conceded defeat before Covid, it cannot be presumed that the existing infrastructure in Gulf countries can ensure security to the expatriate community. It is for these reasons that a visit to the Gulf region, home to an estimated population of 32 lakhs of Malayalis, by expert medical teams assumes urgent importance. If Kerala can send such health care experts to countries populated by Keralites, that would certainly give immense solace and confidence to the expatriate community and their families. The initiative for this should be taken by prominent expatriates and the government of Kerala, and enough pressure should be put on the Centre for making a practical scheme for this. Even when curbs exist in civil aviation, India did successfully accomplish the repatriation of French citizens stranded in India. If so, given the will, it is not impossible for the Centre to find a way for an expert medical delegation to be sent to the Gulf where millions of Indians live. In a way, even a bilateral discussion for this purpose may lead to better consideration for and facilities being made available to, Indians there.
NRIs are also the first to be hit by the economic blow inflicted by Covid. Labour ministries of all countries have decided to slash their workforce. In a way, the very consternation of what is to gain by returning to Kerala post-Covid, is literally turning many mad. At the same time of this alarm come the wildest speculations created by fake news factories causing more severe anxiety. The social transmission of this panic virus is so faster than the disease virus that calls from come families on seeing them. In this situation, the health help desks and telemedicine facilities set up for NRK's by the state governemnt, should also include facilities to address and reduce their mental stress. Mental health care is as important an area to address as the physical health of expatriates living under fear of death on the one hand and job insecurity on the other.
The state government-appointed expert committee led by KM Abraham, in its recommendations for phased withdrawal of lockdown, has recommended steps for repatriation of those stranded abroad to Kerala in the third phase of lifting lockdown. It is only at that stage that international flights will be resumed too. When all countries have declared relaxations in rules about work permits, visa validity, renewal of residency cards etc, resuming flight services in this time of crisis may be a hard task. Taking cognizance of this, expatriate quarters are raising a demand before the government to explore ways of bringing seriously ill patients on priority through special flights directly to dedicated isolation wards to be set up in hospitals here. The expatriate community which for the last half a century has been instrumental in keeping the economic boat of the state afloat, is now stripped of its oar and desperately looking up to the state for rescue. Although there is no clue now about how post-Covid era will be, this is an hour when we have to declare that even amidst our privations, we have a place in our hearts for the NRKs. It would only be a repayment of debt by every Malayali if he lends an ear to their concerns and tries for solutions hitherto thought impossible. At this juncture, it is imperative to foresee that only through creating another expatriate community can Kerala be made free of hunger.