May 4, 2020 12:50:47 am
Having started the process of taking migrant labourers back to their home states in trains, the government is now looking at evacuating Indians stuck abroad.
In a presentation shared with states during a meeting chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba on Sunday, the Centre gave state-wise breakups of people wanting to return to India and asked them to ready quarantine and testing facilities for them.
In the MEA’s presentation, it was estimated that of the 1 crore people who are currently abroad on an Indian passport, about 1,92,000 in dire need may be brought back in socially-distanced flights, that they themselves pay for, once the states are ready with their protocols. This, provided they have proof of being COVID negative.
Kerala has shared a detailed protocol with the Centre for bringing back 3.6 lakh of its estimated 22 lakh people stuck in various countries. However, sources said the Centre feels their criteria for evacuation is too broad-based, and wants to restrict the number to workers with expired visas and such others who have no resources or documents to stay where they are.
A source who was at the meeting said, “The MEA has done an exercise to bring back about 1,92,000 people from various countries… Many people have been stuck since March 22. There are some 88 lakh people in the Gulf alone who want to come back. They will be charged the fare and allowed to travel only if they have a COVID-free certificate. States have been given a breakup of how many they will have to accommodate.”
The protocol Kerala has shared with states banks on free testing facilities available in countries like the UAE. For others like Saudi Arabia, where outsiders do not have access to free testing, the state has proposed flying down Indians doctors and lab technicians with reagents, while the local embassy negotiates for use of laboratory facilities.
“When asymptomatic people with a COVID-free certificate land here, they go home but are monitored every day. Symptomatic people are screened and tested. If they are negative, they go home with monitoring, and if they are positive they go to hospital,” said an official.
The UAE has offered to fly stranded Indians and citizens of other countries, who wish to be repatriated, if they test negative, the UAE’s ambassador to India Dr Ahmed Abdul Rahman Albanna had said mid-April.
Officials said there were concerns in some states about the evacuees putting pressure on the already stretched system. Sources said that Sunday’s presentation was to give states time to “get their act together”.
Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said: “There is something afoot to bring back Indians. We do not have too many people, about 300-400. We have also sent about $2,000 to whoever registered on our website — about 59 people in all.”