The Kerala government on Wednesday made the pre-flight Covid-19 tests mandatory for all individuals returning to the state from overseas, irrespective of whether they are taking flights under the Vande Bharat mission or chartered flights arranged by various organisations. The decision comes three months after the Kerala Assembly passed a unanimous resolution against the Centre's circular.
“Right from the beginning of the Vande Bharat mission, we have been requesting the Central government that expats should come back to Kerala only after testing. The state had insisted on Covid tests for all, including for those who are flying back on chartered flights. Those flying by Spice Jet are already doing it," chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters.
He added that the Covid-19 test is mandatory and the norm is same for all.
"It is not safe for the passengers to have a few infected people among them. If doing PCR test for passengers is difficult, let them do antibody tests. The True Nat testing is cheaper and gives results faster which is suitable for travellers. Government of India should make arrangements for testing through Embassies in countries where facilities for testing is not there," the CM said.
The chief minister added that airline companies could also work with the health department to facilitate the tests.
Notably, the Kerala Assembly on March 11, passed a unanimous resolution against the Centre's circular barring the return of Indians from coronavirus-hit countries such as Italy unless they produce a certificate that proves they have tested negative for the infection. The resolution moved by the CM had termed the circular "inhuman" and akin to "cruelly abandoning" the expatriate Indians.
Before this resolution, Vijayan on March 10, had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention to withdraw the circular issued by Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The circular 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 the designated laboratories authorised by the health authorities of those countries.
The Chief Minister said the foreign authorities were not ready to test people without symptoms as they were already overloaded with patients. He added that the Kerala government has asked the Centre to allow those in Italy to travel to India and be kept in quarantine in case they test positive on arrival.
Chief Minister said a total of 277 Keralites living overseas have succumbed to COVID-19 till Tuesday. The majority of the deaths were reported from Gulf countries, while the death toll due to the disease in the state stands at 20. According to him, the state had only three COVID-19 deaths as on May 4 and the subsequent spike in fatalities was caused by overseas returnees with co-morbidities.
On Wednesday, the chief minister took a veiled dig at the Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan and said that it is really unfortunate that a misinformation campaign is being carried out and even a Central Minister is a part of it. “Do not try to play politics using the health of the public during a disaster. Some attempts are being done to undermine our security when people are coming from other states.”
“We welcome all expats to come back, whether they come from abroad or from other states, whether they are sick or not and will provide the necessary treatment. There is no change in our stance. At the same time, the government must be vigilant to prevent an outbreak. If we do not take adequate precautions, the spread of disease will be out of control," Vijayan said.
The chief minister added that the Centre should explore the possibility of arranging separate flights for those infected.
"At present, 1.5% of the people who come here from abroad are Covid positive. When the number of passengers increases by more than 200,000, the number of Covid positive cases are likely to increase drastically and this can lead to community spread," Vijayan said.