The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.
AM Abdussalam, Correspondent
Bowing to protests from expatriate community, Kerala government decided to make the mandatory RT-PCR COVID test free for all international passengers, including the UAE, arriving at airports.
Minister for Health KK Shailaja announced the decision in Trivandrum on Friday.
The state government will conduct the test for free and send the results to the people by SMS without any delay.
Minister Shailaja pleaded helplessness in waiving a second test, and said the state is doing what it can by deciding to make it free for air passengers arriving at Kerala airports.
Kerala has been able to effectively mitigate COVID with its scientific approach. The cooperation from public at large helped the state fare way better than rest of the country, said the minister.
In view of the latest surge in COVID-19 positive cases in the country, India government directed all state governments to strengthen airport surveillance to control the spread of the disease. According to reports there has been an increase of 31 per cent in COVID-19 cases within one week. The presence of a new COVID variant is also feared.
Hence, the government has made COVID tests mandatory for all people coming from foreign countries, said the minister.
India has made RT-PCR negative certificate, obtained within 72 hours, mandatory for people belonging to all age groups including children who are entering the country. As per the rule, each traveller must undergo a fresh test at airports even if they hold a valid COVID negative certificate. Apart from this, 14-days’ quarantine is also made compulsory for all travellers.
The minister’s announcement of free tests came after several expatriate organisations voiced their protests at double test requirement. A large number of Kerala’s population is working abroad especially in Gulf countries. Political leaders in the state as well as community figures and organisations in the Gulf have been demanding withdrawal of the second test at airports. MK Raghavan, who represents Kozhikode constituency in the parliament, had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to either withdraw the directions or make the test free for all. He pointed out that the test was offered for free at major airports in foreign countries.
State government has also decided to increase the number of RT-PCR tests. As part of this, the government will establish more RT-PCR test mobile labs in association with a private firm. The mobile labs will start operation from Saturday.
The test charge has been reduced to Rs 448 for RT-PCR tests in these mobile labs. The government hopes that more people will undergo the test once the test charge is reduced. At present, private labs are charging Rs1, 700 for RT-PCR test per individual.
On Wednesday, Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC), an expatriates’ forum affiliated to the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), had urged the state government to drop RT-PCR test for Non-Resident Keralites at airports when they return home. Ibrahim Elettil, president, Dubai KMCC said that all expatriates who return to Kerala had earlier been asked to undergo RT-PCR test 72 hours before travel. From February 22, the test has been made mandatory after their arrival here. This has to be followed by seven-day quarantine and one more RT-PCR test.
Kerala on Friday reported 3,671 new COVID-19 cases. The test positivity rate was recorded at 5.41 per cent. Three of the UK returnees tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. So far, 94 UK returnees tested positive for the virus infection and 82 of them have recovered. Elevn 11 patients have been identified with the mutant virus strain so far.
According to the health minister, 67,812 samples were tested in the last 24 hours. Fourteen deaths were confirmed due to COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. The total number of deaths in the state has touched 4,164.
Travellers will be exempted from quarantine in the case of a death in the family.
Good news as travellers who have received two doses of UAE-approved jabs will now be allowed to enter the emirate. The UAE is a second home for over 200 nationalities. Indians in the UAE constitute the largest part of the population of the country
The zeal could not be more pronounced in the UAE, a country hosting cultures of over 200 nationalities, and which has a huge expatriate presence from Kerala.
The Ministry of Health, in a statement, said, “Existing guidelines have been revised for reporting a new variant of SARSCoV2 (B.1.1.529; called Omicron) which has now been classified as a VOC by the WHO.
Civil Aviation authority said, “In view of the evolving global scenario with the emergence of new variants of Concern', the situation is being watched closely in consultation with all stakeholders."
Saudi Arabia last week halted flights from seven southern African countries, mirroring similar moves by other government, but travel links with North Africa have remained unaffected.