Dubai: Indian expatriates travelling home from UAE are peeved by the situation of having to meet the cost of Covid-19 tests twice, once before boarding the flight and then again on arrival.
As per the latest central government imposed protocol that came in force at midnight of 23 February, those travelling to India have to undergo a Covid test on arrival. This is in addition to the mandatory pre-boarding negative certification not earlier than 72 hours prior to boarding.
The stipulation has stirred ample ire among expatriates having to travel to India, especially from those earning low income and those who return with either no job on hand or after futile job searches. It also puts off families with larger number of tests to pay for. Many have been forced to return to India due to job losses caused by the recession during the pandemic.
While the airlines have to ensure that the passengers carry a negative RT-PCR certificate for Covid-19, that will cost each passenger anything in the range of AED 120 to AED 200 depending on on the testing lab or hospital chosen from the approved labs list.
However, the cost of a similar test at arriving airports in India varies from airport to airport. In Ahmedabad it is INR 800 per person, in Bangalore INR 3,000 for express processing (30 minutes) and Rs 500 for normal processing (4 hours), Rs 1,200 to 2,500 in Chennai, and in Delhi it is approx INR 800. In Kerala airports it is INR 1,700 per passenger.
In view of the double whammy, and also the huge burden on passengers with their families, a clamour has started being aired in Dubai to waive the test on arrival, since the passengers would already be cleared with negative Covid result within the previous 72 hours of departure.
There has also been a demand that if at all the on-arrival test is insisted on, it should be made free. Social activists in the Gulf cite the example of UAE who offered test free for arriving passengers or insist on quarantine for others who do not carry negative certificate.
Some have also been citing the stipulation that the condition does not spare even infants, and demand that children below the age of 12 be exempted from the requirement. But since the protocol mentions 'self-paid confirmatory molecular test' on arrival in India, and the test costs are determined by respective state governments, as of now it falls on state governments to arrange free testing and they cannot take independent decisions for the state alone.
Expatriates from Kerala, who form the bulk of Indians living in the UAE, demand that alternately, the state government persuade the central government to remove the insistence on a second test on arrival, even if that entails a compulsory quarantine at home or make tests free.
However, the governments have mostly been driven by fears of the new variant of Corona virus, which according to some experts has more transmissibility and therefore bear higher risks. And passengers coming from UAE, have relatively high chances of being exposed to foreigners from different countries living or staying within the UAE.