The Kerala government has requested the central government to restart international flights to Dubai, keeping in mind the Dubai government’s decision to reopen the airport and the requirement of Indians to return to work.
“We have requested that flights to Dubai be restarted, given that the authorities there have given permission for residents of Dubai to return to the country from yesterday,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, referring to an email message sent to the Prime Minister.
Dubai is home to over 10 lakh (1 mln) Keralites, about a tenth of whom have returned to their home state in the past three months due to the COVID pandemic.
While around half of those who have returned to Kerala from the Gulf countries did so after losing their jobs and incomes in these countries, the other half came due to various other factors, including safety and vacationing.
On the other hand, the UAE government has been keen to keep the country’s doors open, and decided to close its airports only after most of the world had already done so.
The Dubai government wants to ensure that the city’s status as an international travel, tourism and business destination is not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only has the government been among the first to open its airports to returning residents, but has also announced that even temporary visitors and tourists will be allowed to fly in from July 10.
“Many Keralites working in Dubai and other Gulf countries are waiting to return to their workplaces. We have requested the prime minister to direct the civil aviation ministry to allow flights to Dubai,” Vijayan added.
The Kerala economy is heavily dependent on remittances from Keralites working in the Gulf countries, Europe, the US and Canada. These remittances are crucial to India as a whole too, and allows the country to buy items such as crude oil and electronics from international markets.
The Indian economy gets around $70 billion a year as remittances from Indians working abroad, which is equal to about 35%-40% of what India earns by exporting material goods (merchandise exports) to other countries of the world (excluding re-export items like petroleum and gems).
Within this $70 billion, Kerala accounts for 19%, followed by Maharashtra with around 16.7% and Karnataka with around 15%.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already thrown lakhs of Keralites in Gulf countries out of a job. It is feared that further delays in the return of those who still have jobs there can exacerbate the situation.
Pinarayi Vijayan said the state government is willing to provide COVID-19 testing to all returning passengers. Kerala government does not charge for the service, at least for passengers returning to India from abroad.
Separately, Pinarayhi Vijayan has asked the central government to ensure that those coming from the Gulf countries be given COVID-19 tests at the source country or airport, instead of waiting for them to reach India.