As India begins its biggest evacuation excercise to bring back its citizens stranded in the Gulf and various countries due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the three airports in Kerala are all set to receive around 2,700 expatriates in the first five days, beginning Thursday.
Three naval ships, which have also joined in the evacuation process, left for Maldives and UAE on Tuesday to bring back Indian citizens. The first of the three flights from the Gulf will take off from Abu Dhabi on Thursday with 200 passengers and touch down at the Kochi International airport at 9.45 pm.
Jishnu, a passenger from Abu Dhabi, who got his ticket, was elated that he would be able to return to his home state.
"I am very happy to have got the ticket. I was informed yesterday that I could travel", he told a television channel.
The Kochi-Doha flight of Thursday has been re-scheduled to Saturday, CIAL sources said.
Two flights with 200 passengers each are scheduled to land at Kozhikode airport from Dubai and Riyadh on Thursday.
Another two flights are expected at Thiruvananthapuram on May9 and 10 from Doha in Qatar with 200 passengers each, Thiruvananthaouram Airport DirectorC V Raveedranath told PTI.
Arrangements are in place at Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram airports in Kerala to receive the NRKs.
For those arriving at Thiruvananthapuram, quarantine facilities have been arranged in six taluks to accomodate over 11,200 people and the government will bear the expenses.
Hotel rooms have been arranged for another 6400 people for which they will have to pay, a government press release said.
These people will have to complete their observation as per the government's COVID-19 protocol.
Various hostels, hotels, auditoriums have been taken for quarantine facilities of the NRKs.
The Cochin International Airport and Cochin Port have also made all arrangements to receive expatriates returning from the countries, Ernakulam District administration said.
Thermal scanners have been set up at the airport for the screening of the passengers and for quarantine facilities, while 4,000 houses with water, electricity and bath attached facilities have been arranged in Ernakulam district.
From May 7 to May 13, 64 flights are expected to be operated from various countries to India to bring back expats from the Gulf countries, Singapore, US and UK, among others.
While all arrangements have been made by the state government to receive the NRKs, there is some confusion about the number of days passengers will have to undergo quarantine on arrival.
The state government has said passengers from abroad will have to go on seven days quarantine on arrival at government arranged institutions and undergo tests after a week.
If found symptomatic, they will have to go to hospitals and those whose samples are found negative will be allowed to leave for home where they have to strictly follow home quarantine.
But as per the Centre's guidelines, they will have to undergo 14 days institutional quarantine.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said it was "dangerous" to bring back stranded NRKs to the state without any COVID-19 tests as it would lead to spreading of infection.
He wanted the centre to ensure that the NRKs undergo the tests before emplaning for their respective states.
Vijayan has also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, highlighting the state's concern on the matter.
There should not be any lapse in following globally accepted health protocols lest there be a setback in the state's efforts to prevent community spread of COVID-19, Vijayan had said.
At least 4. 27 lakh NRKs have registered in the NORKA portal, of which about 1.69 lakh people constitute the most vulnerable sections-- those who have lost their jobs, those released from prisons and awaiting deportation, pregnant women,students who have completed courses and whose visas have expired.
Over 9,900 pregnant women and 61,000 people who have lost their jobs are among those who have registered.
However, as per the centre's list, only 80,000 NRKs are in the priority list for being brought back to the state.