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Karnataka: Overseas returnees from neighbouring states seek ‘window’ to reach back home post lockdown

The last batch of 536 persons out of the 35,000 foreign travellers who arrived in Karnataka between March 1 and March 23 from various countries completed their mandated 14-day coronavirus quarantine period on Monday (April 6).

Written by Ralph Alex Arakal | Bengaluru | Published: April 7, 2020 8:43:01 pm
Airport-Bengaluru-Bangalore-corona-screening-thermal_759 31 of the 47 passengers at the isolation facility hail from Karnataka. Photo/BIAL

For several overseas returnees, who arrived in Bengaluru hours before all international flights to and from India were cancelled as part of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, times have been tough like many others as they are yet to reach back home.

For Dr. Suneeta Gadre, a Mumbai-based gynaecologist, life in quarantine has gifted moments of anxiety and stress even though she felt safe in a hospital under observation for over a fortnight.

“I was on my way back from Australia via Bangkok to Mumbai but my last connecting flight was cancelled due to the nationwide lockdown announced to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus. This resulted in me landing in Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru instead after which I was moved to a hospital for a mandatory 14-days observation as per government directives,” she explained.

At Sapthagiri Institute of Medical Sciences located at Chikkabanavara in the city, she was joined by 46 others in similar situations. However, all 47 were tested negative for COVID-19 on completion of their mandatory quarantine.

31 out of the 47 passengers who were at the isolation facility were from Karnataka itself, mostly from Bengaluru and Mysuru. The remaining 16 of them who hail from different states such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala have been moved to an isolation hotel facility.

“We have been told that we will continue to be here until the lockdown is lifted. While we appreciate all measures taken by the government to ensure the pandemic is contained, we would like to request officers to ensure travel arrangements for us to reach back to our hometowns as soon as the lockdown is over. For this, preparations should begin soon,” Dr. Gadre pointed out.

She feels “heavy at heart” for not being able to do her part as a healthcare professional and help regular patients and others in her community. “As a gynaecologist, there are several commitments that I have made to meet and treat my patients. While this is possible to an extent over the phone, being with them physically is equally important,” Dr. Gadre added.

The last batch of 536 persons out of the 35,000 foreign travellers who arrived in Karnataka between March 1 and March 23 from various countries completed their mandated 14-day coronavirus quarantine period on Monday (April 6).

Meanwhile, 66-year-old Vinay Patkar, another Mumbaikar was on his return journey with his wife Vrishali Patkar (63) from New Zealand when they had to land in Bengaluru late night on March 21.

“Even though it was difficult to cope with the fact that flying for just another 90 minutes would have landed us in our hometown, as days passed we realised how it was important for the government to take proactive measures to ensure COVID-19 is contained,” Patkar said.

He added that the group of passengers who were taken to the same hospital for the mandatory observation period had got along well and was impressed by the way the hospital staff took good care of all.

“While we made new friends at the quarantine facility, the news that none of us was tested positive for the infection was more heartening,” he added, appreciating the efforts of the medical and non-medical hospital staff.

However, even though government officials had visited them frequently to check on their health during the period, their anxious questions on how to get back home were left unanswered.

“Our official visitors were always someone from the health department and they were not the right people to discuss logistics-related issues. We hope someone has planned our returns well too,” Dr. Gadre said.

While regular medicines for all were provided at the hospital on request, some ended up stocking more as they were discharged on Sunday.

“The staff used to get us medicines that we have regularly otherwise from the pharmacy. On Sunday, we asked them to buy more to ensure we get to use them until April 15. If the lockdown extends even then, things might get difficult,” Patkar said.

While others from the group shared the same concern, Patkar said, “In case the lockdown is extended after April 14, the government should try to enable a special window for passengers like us to reach back to our hometowns.”

At the same time, Dr. Gadre pointed out that such a decision would help thousands of people stuck in different metro cities of the country in similar circumstances. “While the governments have thought deep into how to contain the situation until now, it would be great if our concerns are also addressed effectively,” she said.

Meanwhile, Karnataka Education Minister S Suresh Kumar Tuesday clarified that the state government is yet to take a decision on whether to extend the lockdown after April 14, when the nation completes the 21-day lockdown initiated to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The government has sought inputs from various committees formed to combat the pandemic which also includes top healthcare experts like Dr. Devi Shetty (Chairman, Narayana Health) and Dr. Manjunath (Director, Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research). The talks are on, but the government is yet to take a final decision,” Kumar said.

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