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Friday, May 29, 2020

Goa: Seafarers sent into paid quarantine question ‘bias’

Seafarers entering the state have to undergo a mandatory 14-day institutional quarantine even if their tests come negative, with their agents and companies having to pay for the hotel stay

By: Express News Service | Panjim | Updated: May 8, 2020 9:55:38 pm
goa coronavirus, goa green zone, goa seafarers entry, goa border entry quarantine, covid 19 goa, goa news, latest news A deserted Goa street amidst a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (File/Express photo: Smita Nair)

With the next fleet of vessels carrying Goan seafarers expected to arrive at the western shores, associations for seafarers have question why “paid quarantine” has been made mandatory for them, when it is not applied to others entering the state.

Every day Goa sees at least 50 entries through its borders who are tested for Covid-19. They are sent to free institutional quarantine till the test results arrive, and later to home quarantine if they test negative. Seafarers, however, have to undergo a mandatory 14-day institutional quarantine even if their tests come negative, with their agents and companies having to pay for the hotel stay. An exception has been made for an individual seafarer who was allowed to go to home quarantine.

For now 62 sailors are in paid institutional quarantine despite all their tests having come negative. They disembarked in Mumbai port and were brought to Goa in a bus after which they were tested together. With Goa now a green zone, health minister Vishwajit Rane stressed that this stringent measure was needed. “If we do not take precautions now, there is a possibility that we may be pushed from green zone to orange or red zone.”

Politicians and seafarers’ association have protested against this saying that this is against the Directorate General of Shipping’s Standarad Operating Procedure which directs home quarantine.

Officials have argued that charging seafarers for quarantine was a decision made after a long thought. “The health of seafarers till they reach home is the equal responsibility of the company as its also a part of the health insurance.”

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant too had told reporters earlier this week: “ Only one hotel has volunteered to provide free service. Rest still have charges between Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000”. Over 10,000 rooms have been requisitioned for the seafarers.

Advocate Carlos Ferreira, a leading lawyer in Goa, has questioned this “bias”. As he adds, “There is still no clarity on this. We have had two statements from the Chief Minister on this in the last two weeks. Once we were told the agencies have offered to pay for their quarantine and at the same time we were told the Government negotiated with them. This will only now be clear when the next ships arrive. For now, we can only say this is against the SOP of DG shipping which every others state is following.”

The next two vessels expected to arrive are Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas and Carnivals’ Europa 2 — which according to Goa government officials are expected to dock at Mumbai and Kochi.

DG Shipping has informed the state of the likely return of a share of 7,500 Goans working in India and abroad. The state government has for now installed testing kiosks on the port premises for vessels that disembark in Goa, and at state borders for seafarers who come via road after disembarking in any neighbouring state.

Officials admit the Goa government’s decision is “more stringent than MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) ” but add it was a cabinet decision taken to ensure Goa remains in Green Zone. “We are not extending this to individual seafarers. This only applies when there is a bulk entry — we are afraid that even if one turns positive, then we are looking at community transmission,” said an official.

According to the Tourism Department, the industry is going through the worst phase and any “free use of their resources” might impact it further. With over 7,500 quarantine facilities to be made for seafarers alone, the budgets will be affected.

“We have been meeting the government on this issue, and waiting to hear on the matter. There are two conflicting statements coming and we are concerned why there is so much delay in getting the seafarers back to their home state and why only they are being made to compulsorily pay and quarantine. This sends a wrong message,” said captain Venzy Viegas of Goan Seamen Association of Indian.

“No other state charges their seafarers for their quarantine. Agents and ships put them in hotels for the two days when they have to wait for test results. Once they turn negative they are asked to go. Our worry is will those whose agents refuse to pay not be brought back.”

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