Government of Kerala has reaffirmed its stance that expatriates coming home from abroad, seeking protection from Covid pandemic, should produce the mandatory Covid-negative certificate after test in their country of departure. During his press briefing on Wednesday, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan explained that this decision is a part of the vigil to prevent spread of the disease.
Earlier, the government had decided to insist on corona-negative document for those arriving from abroad by chartered flights. When this decision invited strong protests from Indian diaspora and the same was taken up by opposition parties and social bodies here, the left front government, in an apparent bid to remove semblance of discrimination, tightened its stand by making the condition applicable for passengers of Vande Bharat flights as well.
The decision has come as a bolt from the blue for the Malayalis living in the Gulf and other countries where Covid has registered fast spread and fatalities, who have been in panic to reach home. As per official figures, by now 277 Keralites have died of Covid. In the Gulf countries alone, till last day 222 Malayalis died. In many places where severe spread of disease has been reported, people have been stuck in their residences without job and fighting starvation, disease and also fear of disease. Social media abound in sorry tales of so stranded people.
The atmosphere of disease and resultant isolation has also put many in a state of mental stress and other ailments including even heart attacks. As an example, figures available from Saudi Arabia say that when 75 Keralites died of Covid till five days ago, at least 53 died of heart ailments and related maladies within the same period.
The apprehensions resulting from this situation can be guessed by any one. Their incessant clamour made the Centre - which had been adamant in the ban of inbound flights then – bow to their demand. Thus Kerala government also entered the scene with support to the Centre's decision, together with social outfits, and set up quarantine centres of different types. Altogether it was a picture of every one here welcoming the returning Keralites fleeing virtual valleys of death.
When, NORKA, the government arm for expatriate welfare, opened a window of registration for the aspirant returnees, lakhs of Keralites got registered. But things thereafter were rather disappointing like the proverbial man woken up from sleep only to be told there was no meal. The celebration that accompanied the first few arriving flights soon disappeared. Voluntary organisations and vigilance groups were tamed down by the government under technical pretexts. That coupled with the inadequate quarantine of the government, once again highlighted the step-motherly attitude of governments towards the diaspora. The Vande Bharat flights, which had already been fleecing passengers with their monopoly flight operations, soon became slow and less frequent.
When flights thus became inadequate to clear the long waiting list, expatriates got together to clear the backlog by arranging charter flights but that again met with technical snags. First came the stipulation that the carriers should charge only the Vande Bharat flights' fares, then came a quarantine fee, followed by home quarantine instead of institutional quarantine. The expat's woes didn't end there: they reached home only to be harassed by the health vigilantes and greeted by frowning, generally unwelcoming neighbours. Thus the Covid rehabilitation exercise became one of lowering the self-respect and honour of the expatriate Keralite. And now the condition of pre-boarding Covid-negative certificates comes as the last straw on the camel's back. The government's order in effect follows the line of private carriers in insisting that all carriers bringing expatriates should bring only those who test negative before departure. Later it was relaxed to rapid test for the ones from UAE and to the green signal in the government app of Qatar. (It is another matter that some who arrived with these clearances also proved positive after arriving home).
In some Gulf countries there are no facilities open for such tests and issue of certificates, as vouched for by NORKA helpdesk and expatriate organizations without exception. The government response to this is that it will will ask the central government to facilitate test in embassies, for the people from all states of India living in those countries and to get the government of host foreign countries to change their decision! The expatriates can hardly suppress their laughter over such official ignorance about the ground realities in host nations and with the foggiest idea about the geographical limitations of the Gulf countries or about the functioning of Indian missions there.
It may be recalled that when the Centre issued orders on 12 March that Indians returning from Covid-affected countries should produce a certificate from respective countries that they were not infected, Kerala chief minister had initiated a resolution of the state assembly against it. He also had said that it was inhuman to treat the country's own citizens in that manner. But of late the same unrefined treatment is being meted out to them by his own left-front government. Thus those singing the praise of expatriates as the bread-winner and backbone of the land and now taking this posture, need to be told that their battle now is not against the disease, not even against the sick, but against expatriates - pure and simple.