Confusion prevails over India flights to UAE, thousands of passengers stuck in Kerala

It is still unclear when passengers will be able to board flights to the UAE as airports get ready to meet the new COVID-19 protocols. Image Credit: Bloomberg News

Thiruvananthapuram: The good news that the UAE is now open to receiving passengers from India was a major relief for thousands of Keralites awaiting return to the Gulf, but confusion and uncertainty have continued to plague outbound passengers.

On Thursday, it was still unclear when passengers would actually be able to board flights to the UAE, even as inbound flights into Kerala have been operating in limited numbers.

RT-PCR tangle

At the heart of the matter is the stipulation that RT-PCR (reverse transcription- polymerase chain reaction) tests have to be done for passengers travelling to the UAE, within four hours of departure. The stipulation is extremely difficult for most passengers given that they have to travel many hours to reach the airports.

Kerala has four international airports at Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Kozhikode and Kannur which are used by passengers, many of who reside more than 100 kms away.

The state government is keen to have RT-PCR test centres at the four airports, but groundwork towards this is still work in progress.

CIAL ready

“If the government wants individual airports to establish rapid RT-PCR tests, we are ready,” Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) spokesman P.S. Jayan told Gulf News.

CIAL has already called for expression of interest to set up a rapid RT-PCR test centre at the airport. The rapid tests are near-identical to the conventional tests, even using the same chemicals, with the difference that the equipment used in rapid testing is different, which is able to analyse many more samples at the same time.

Government nod required

“CIAL has already started the process to establish rapid RT-PCR testing for passengers. Before installation of the facility, the identified labs have to obtain approvals from regulatory authorities. The infrastructure is already established at Terminal-3 departure. Once the nods from authorities are obtained, we can start the testing, hopefully within days,” a statement from CIAL said.

However, in the absence of clear deadlines for setting up the testing centres or whether it is the government that will set up the labs or airports have to do it themselves, there is no clarity on when the rapid test centres will come up at airports.

Officials said rapid test facilities can analyse roughly 90 samples at a time.

Jobs, businesses affected

Thousands of Keralites who came home from the UAE when travel restrictions were eased but are now stuck at home owing to new protocols having kicked in, are worried over their jobs and businesses, and in several cases about reuniting with families in the UAE.

“My presence is urgently required in Dubai for different strategic reasons for my company. Even approval of payments from and to key clients and signing up important deals are all held up owing to the flight disruption,” Ebby Abraham, managing director of Dubai-based Roots Advertising LLC told Gulf News.

Abraham, who has been in the UAE for nearly three decades, came to Kerala on what was meant to be a short visit earlier this year, but now has been held up for a few months.

George Varghese, an insurance professional based in Dubai who is currently in Kerala, is also worried about when he can get back to the UAE.

Varghese, from Mallapally in Pathanamthitta district, came to Kerala when his mother fell ill, hoping that he could be with his mother for some time and then return. But the new protocols for outbound travel involving RT-PCR tests have left him in uncertain territory.

New regulations for passengers to Dubai

On Saturday, the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management in Dubai announced updates to Dubai’s travel protocols for inbound passengers from South Africa, Nigeria and India, effective from June 23. It was announced that only passengers with a valid residence visa who have received two doses of a UAE-approved vaccine, are allowed to travel to Dubai from India.

Among the mandatory requirements announced for the India flights was the need for a negative test certificate from a PCR test taken 48 hours before departure. Only QR-coded negative PCR test certificates were accepted, it was announced.

The new protocol also said passengers from India were required to undergo a rapid PCR test four hours prior to departure to Dubai. They also had to undergo another PCR test on arrival in Dubai. In addition, following arrival, passengers from India had to undergo institutional quarantine until they receive their PCR test result, which is expected within 24 hours.

Inbound flights on course

Meanwhile, several inbound international flights are calling at Kerala’s airports, where passengers are mandatorily asked for swab samples, after which they can head home.

But that does not apply for outbound passengers from Kerala, who now have to do the rapid RT-PCR test before they can board. Officials at the Cochin airport said outbound flights may begin only by Sunday or Monday, at the earliest. And that hinges on how fast rapid-test facilities can be established at the airports. Presently, incoming flights are returning empty.

However, flights to Oman, Bahrain and Maldives have been operating in limited numbers, an official at CIAL said.