Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala will face its biggest coronavirus challenge when hundreds of thousands of non-resident Keralites (NRKs) return home beginning May 7 as part of a massive evacuation drive planned by the Modi government.
Some 4.5 lakh people have registered for being evacuated and nearly all of them are from countries heavily impacted by the coronavirus. Kerala’s Covid outbreak had its origin in people coming from outside.
The first outbreak occurred when a family from Italy slipped out of the airport without subjecting itself to screening and finally ended up in hospital, but not before they had transmitted the virus to a number of people.
This was followed by a spike in the number of cases, triggered by people carrying the virus from places like Dubai and other Gulf capitals, which the state authorities managed to contain through an elaborate system of testing, quarantine and observation.
The new influx is beginning at a time the state has almost succeeded in freeing itself from the disease, with only less than three dozen people recouping in hospitals.
The state has also managed to cap the number of deaths at three, although at one point of time it was topping the list of reported cases for the whole country. With the large inflow of people from heavily infested countries and Indian cities, the state’s defence against Covid will once again face a severe test.
All incoming passengers would be tested at the airport itself and those who show symptoms would be transferred via ambulances to hospital for treatment. Also, arrangements will be made to provide care to those who are in quarantine or observation.
All those who arrive will have to undergo a minimum quarantine of 14 days, going up to four weeks based on symptoms. All this will be the state’s responsibility.
A major worry for the authorities is that there is an increasing number of asymptomatic cases turning into full-blown virus attacks. This put added pressure on quarantine and observation.
While the central government protocol provides for institutional quarantine for all, the state has used home quarantine very effectively in the early phases of the virus spread. In the first week of evacuation, about 1,500 people are expected to be brought back.
Flights are set to land in the three international airports of Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. Apart from the flights, naval ships are also joining the mission, making the first trip from Dubai to Kochi.
In Thiruvananthapuram, facilities have been lined up at various places to quarantine about 18,000 people, some at government expense and others to be paid for by the NRIs themselves. The authorities have hired hotels, hostels, auditoriums and other buildings for the purpose.
About 260 hotels are available for those who can afford to pay and spend their quarantine period there. The authorities have also identified about 175 halls to accommodate more people in the event of a sudden rush.
In Ernakulam, served by the Kochi airport, the district administration has arranged 6,000 houses and 8,000 rooms, including hotel rooms and hostels near the airport. Some 4,000 houses in various panchayats around the airport have also been identified.
Similarly, in Malappuram, the district administration has lined up over hundred buildings with more than 7,000 rooms to be converted into Covid care centres for passengers landing at the Kozhikode airport. Another 15,000 rooms have been placed on call if there is need.