Covid-19: Kerala requests Centre to airlift Indians stranded abroad

Our Bureau Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on March 11, 2020

Ten more travellers from Italy exhibit symptoms, hospitalised

At least 10 passengers who arrived in Kochi from Italy last (Tuesday) night have been admitted to isolation wards in hospitals with potential Covid-19 infection. Italy is among the worst-affected country with the number of deaths and the infected galloping at a worrisome pace, trapping Kerala-bound passengers at various airports in that country.

The Ernakulam district administration has decided to earmark government hospitals in Aluva, Muvattupuzha and Karuvelippady and the government ayurveda hospital in Thrippunithura in case the handling capacity at Government Medical College in Kalamassery is exceeded.

Clustering in Pathanamthitta

As of yesterday (Tuesday), 259 persons with symptoms were admitted in isolation wards in hospitals in the State, and 1,236 are in home quarantine. Of these, at least 120 persons were admitted in hospitals on Tuesday. There were 14 confirmed Covid-19 patients, out of which two elderly, high-risk patients who contracted the virus from clustering effect in Pathanamthitta district, are battling for their life at the Government Medical College in Kottayam.

The health department has launched a mapping exercise to gauge the spread of the virus by a Pathanamthitta family that had arrived in Kochi from Italy on February 19. The department has come out with a detailed flow chart, showing the places the family visited after arrival including houses of kin, hospitals, time and day, the mode of travel including names of buses. The department has requested all members of the public who might have come into contact with the family at these places to report in on phone 9188297118 and 9188294118.

CM writes on stranded passengers

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has described as ‘uncivilised’ a Central circular barring the return of Indians from Covid-19-hit countries unless they produce a certificate that proves they have tested negative. He told the State Assembly today (Wednesday) that he has written to the Prime Minister requesting his intervention to withdraw the circular issued by Director General of Civil Aviation in this connection.

The circular had reportedly stipulated that people travelling from or having visited Italy or South Korea and desirous of entering India need to obtain certificates of having tested negative for Covid-19 from designated laboratories authorised by the health authorities of those countries.

Centre to decide soon

Vijayan said the Assembly would consider moving a resolution in this regard in the ongoing session in the context of stranded Indians, including many Keralites, from abroad, especially Italy. The Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front extended its support to the Chief Minister’s move.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said in New Delhi that the group of ministers at the Centre would meet soon to take a call on sending a medical team to Italy. There is no question of flying in potential virus carriers and unaffected passengers on a single aircraft. Instead, the idea would be get these passengers tested in Italy and bring back the normal passengers and treat the others back in Italy. They will be flown back home once they test negative in the screening tests.

Passenger video from Italy

The case of Indians stranded abroad gained urgency after Hima, a woman from Kerala, stranded at an airport in Italy sent out a video to the media showing their hardships. “We are being treated here as smugglers. People have commented on the Facebook video asking us why we want to come back. Many (of us) came to the airport without knowing that a certificate would be required for travel. The airport authorities say that India is not ready to receive us,” she said in a voice message. At least 200 Indians were stranded at Milan and Rome airports, she added. “We are sitting at a corner of the airport in freezing temperatures. It is just like an isolation ward here. The Central government should give us the certificate to enable us to return”, she said.

Chief Minister Vijayan wondered how can it be that an Indian citizen cannot come back home just because he/she is infected? “This is an uncivilised attitude,” he told the Assembly in his reply to a calling of attention motion. The Chief Minister has shot off a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri too requesting him to withdraw the circular and bring back the stranded Indians with valid tickets. In his letter to the Prime Minister, Vijayan said the foreign authorities were not ready to test people without symptoms as they were already overloaded with patients.

Bring stranded in, test later

“We are receiving information that many Indians are stranded in airports in Italy as they are not able to board flights to cities in India without this certificate, which is now made mandatory irrespective of whether these travellers have symptoms or not,” Vijayan said.

“While there is no difference of opinion that enough safeguards should be taken so that the disease does not spread, creating undue hardships to Indians abroad wanting to come home in an hour of crisis is not fair. They can be tested on arrival and kept in quarantine if necessary. There are necessary facilities in our country,” Vijayan said in the letter.

Published on March 11, 2020

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