Kerala keeps fingers crossed on pre-flight Covid-19 tests for expats, as discussions with Central govt continue

The Kerala government has said it is in talks with India’s central government on mandatory pre-flight COVID-19 testing for expats. A decision in this regard is expected shortly.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said while the state is looking at enforcing the pre-flight testing from June 25 for chartered and private flights, a final decision on the same will be taken only in consultation with the central authorities.

Of the 2,711 positive cases since May 4, 2,595 cases are of people who returned to Kerala from either abroad or other parts of the country.

The Chief Minister had earlier written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting to make pre-flight testing COVID-19 mandatory for expats who want to return to Kerala, considering the rise in coronavirus cases.

“People returning from abroad must be tested before travel and infected people must not travel along with healthy passengers, instead should travel separately. We had written about this to the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister,” the chief minister said.

“The foreign ministry has got in touch with various embassies of Gulf countries and has communicated responses to us on the status of provisions for COVID-19 negative testing. We are in talks and will soon decide on how to implement this,” Vijayan said. “The state is committed to bring back everyone who wants to return,” he added.

 “We have been told that in UAE, provisions for rapid antibody testing are available. In Qatar, a government app is followed and only those with “green status” on the app will be allowed to travel. In Kuwait, only two terminals have testing facilities, however it can be extended to more terminals as and when required by the airlines,” he noted.

“Oman has only rt-PCR (real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests available and the embassy has reached out to private hospitals but they won’t be ready to implement this from June 25. In Saudi Arabia, rapid antibody tests are being done by some private hospitals, however, it is not recognised by their government. In Bahrain as well, this process looks tough,” he added.

The Chief Minister also clarified that the pre-flight COVID-19 testing will be required for Indians wanting to return from all countries and not just Gulf countries.

The opposition in Kerala, however, has demanded that the pre-flight testing mandated by the state government must be pulled back. “There are many who have lost their jobs, have been left penniless and can’t even buy their own tickets. How will they pay for the tests or even get themselves treated abroad? All of them should be allowed to return”, said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.

The Chief Minister also said that with asymptomatic cases on the rise, family members venturing out must be careful of the elderly and small children as most of the time people don’t follow social distancing norms or wear masks while in their homes.