Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan today termed as risky and unfortunate the centre’s decision to not screen for Coronavirus infection before allowing passengers to board rescue flights that have started from today.
Vijayan said the decision to potentially mix asymptomatic COVID-19 patients with healthy passengers in these flights from abroads would have serious consequences for the health of passengers as well as efforts to control the outbreak of COVID-19 in India.
“This is a very dangerous method. There will be around 200 passengers in each flight. Even if 1 or 2 have the virus, it can create a danger for the entire lot,” Vijayan said in his daily press conference.
“Planes are confined spaces. Chances of viral transmission are very high. Hence, we request that there should be a rethink on this matter,” he said, adding that Kerala has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi drawing his attention to this issue.
“This is something that affects not just the flights to Kerala, but those to other places as well. This will increase the transmission of the virus in the country as a whole.”
He said the Indian government had sent special medical teams to conduct pre-flight check-ups and tests at the time of the air-rescue from Iran and Italy a few weeks ago.
India had also insisted on COVID-Negative certificates for passengers from Coronavirus-affected countries before scheduled flights were suspended in late March.
Pinarayi Vijayan said similar arrangements should be put in place now, and that India should send testing equipment and a team to these international airports, test those who want to come back, and bring the infected and the uninfected people separately.
As the state with the largest number of non-resident Indians, Kerala had written to the central government requesting that pre-flight tests be conducted to separate infected and uninfected passengers, and to prevented uninfected passengers from catching the virus on the plane.
Around 80,000 out of the 1.9 lakh people who will be airlifted under the current plan will be destined for Kerala.
Kerala had flagged the issue of pre-flight testing after more than 200 people who came on various flights from Dubai in March ended up testing positive a few days after touching down in Kerala, possibly because of in-flight transmission of Coronavirus.
If the government plans to push ahead with its plans to bring everyone — infected and uninfected — together, Vijayan said Kerala will be forced to keep all passengers coming on such flights in government-monitored quarantine facilities for one week. In case they contract the virus during the flight, the virus would start multiplying within their bodies over the next seven days and become detectable on the PCR test.
“On the seventh day, they will be subjected to a PCR test. If they test negative, they will be allowed to go for home quarantine for another seven days,” he said.
This approach, in which everyone who comes on such flights are considered suspected COVID patients, will put a severe strain on the state’s resources, particularly its RT-PCR testing infrastructure.
Vijayan said Kerala has only around 45,000 RT-PCR test kits, while around 20,000 passengers are scheduled to arrive from foreign countries every week from next week.
For the first seven days, however, only around 3,250 people will arrive in Kerala.
MORE PEOPLE STRANDED
Vijayan also said that India’s ministry of external affairs, which is in charge of the evacuation exercise, has not taken the data collected by Kerala government from overseas Keralites who want to return to their home country.
A total of 4.42 lakh Keralites currently outside India have registered themselves on Kerala government’s website seeking a place on India-bound flights.
Out of these, around 1.69 lakh people are in need of urgent evacuation, Vijayan said.
“This comprises people who are currently unemployed, people with expired job visas, people who have been convicted in the court, pregnant women, children without parents, tourists with expired visas and students whose courses are come to a close,” he said.
The Chief Minister said Kerala government has been trying to pass on this information to the central government for some time.
“However, no system has been put in place to receive this information from us. We have informed them officially earlier too. Now, we have mentioned this in our letter to the prime minister,” he said.
In addition to the above, the Indian Navy is reported to have sent at least one ship to the United Arab Emirates and two to Maldives, he said.
In addition to the 4.42 lakh people who want to return to Kerala from outside India, another 1.85 lakh want to come back from various states within India, Vijayan said.
25,410 of these have been given passes and 3,363 have returned as of Tuesday noon.
Vijayan also announced a change in the policy on such returnees.
Those who come from a red zone district, such as those in Mumbai and Chennai, will now need to go through a seven-day quarantine in a government facility, similar to the case of air travelers. They will also have to carry a certificate from their origin district to prove where they are coming from.
He said an attempt is also being made to bring back Keralites stranded in North Indian states like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh via train, after bringing them to Delhi first.
On the other side are over 4 lakh migrant laborers from various states like West Bengal, Assam, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha currently in Kerala.
Efforts are on to facilitate the return of those who want to go back to their home states via trains, Vijayan said, adding that so far around 15,000 have already returned. Priority is being given to migrant laborers staying in government camps.