The Kerala government exempted overseas travellers from the COVID-19 test until June 25 as fourteen flights carrying hundreds of thousands of expatriates took off from Muscat and Salalah to mostly Kerala, India on Friday.
The state chief minister told the media his government is in talks to provide testing kits for expatriates in Gulf countries
Some flights were part of official repatriation while the majority of them were chartered by NGOs and overseas arms of political parties to airlift countless Indians stuck in the Sultanate.
The Kerala government had on Wednesday said passengers boarding flights to Kerala from any overseas country must do a PCR / Trunet COVID/ Antibody test to identify the COVID positive cases and “to bring in only those who are tested COVID negative”.
The mandatory COVID-19 test, which cost RO 55-75, came as a sharp blow to labourers, jobless and people who needed urgent medical attention.
“Spending over RO 60 for a test is really a burden for me as I’m going home after my company lost some contracts and we have been staying in the labour camp for nearly 3 months with no salary”, a construction worker told the Observer.
However, those who travel as part of the Vande Bharat repatriation programme need not produce such a certificate, according to the Indian Embassy in Muscat.
“We have not received any information mandating COVID-19 certificates for passengers bound to Kerala till Friday”, Munu Mahawer, Indian Ambassador to the Sultanate, said.
“We have already added nearly 2,500 Indians get back home on 11 flights by the Central Committee plus 2 charter flights by Ruwi KMCC”, said Rayees Ahmed, president of the organisation which operated the largest number of repatriation flights.
The Indian Cultural Foundation (ICF), which organised nearly half a dozen flights, operated three flights on Friday carrying nearly 600 people who required urgent medical care and pregnant women who were selected from the priority list drawn up by the Indian Embassy, according to Mohammed Raziq, General Secretary.