Antibody tests should be conducted on fliers if RT-PCR tests are difficult, Pinarayi Vijayan said (File)
Expatriates who wish to return to Kerala will now have to undergo mandatory COVID-19 tests and carry certificates stating that they have tested negative for the highly contagious coronavirus before boarding a flight to the state, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Wednesday. Apart from those returning under the centre's Vande Bharat Mission, Indians coming back on chartered flights will also have to get themselves tested for coronavirus before boarding the flight.
"It is not safe for the passengers to have a few infected people among them. If conducting RT-PCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests for passengers is difficult, antibody tests should be done," the chief minister added.
The state government also said that in case countries lack facilities to conduct the tests, centre should make the necessary arrangements to test the returnees through the embassies in those countries. "This issue has been raised with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Airlines can also work with the health department to facilitate the tests", Pinarayi Vijayan said.
300 SpiceJet flights have been cleared by Kerala to fly back stranded Indians to the state and the airline has communicated to the state government that they are ensuring pre-flight COVID 19 testing, Mr Vijayan said.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan in a tweet slamming Mr Vijayan called his decision "inhuman".
"@vijayanpinarayi's decision to make #COVID19 certificates mandatory for expatriate Malayalees is anti-people, discriminatory & ill-conceived. It defeats the sole purpose of repatriation during the pandemic. @CMOKerala should focus on #testing & quarantine all the returnees," he tweeted.
.@vijayanpinarayi's decision to make #COVID19 certificates mandatory for expatriate Malayalees is anti-people, discriminatory & ill-conceived. #VandeBharatMission@narendramodi@AmitShah@JPNadda@BJP4India— V Muraleedharan (@VMBJP) June 17, 2020
Responding to V Muraleedharan's criticisms, Pinarayi Vijayan said, "Unfortunate that a Union Minister has been part of disinformation campaign. Do not try to play politics using the health of the public during a disaster."
"If we don't learn from our lessons, are we humans? Can we stay away from our responsibility to protect those who are arriving? Isn't that our responsibility too? Central government must do what is expected of it. This is not something that can end with arguments. Decisions have to be taken keeping in mind the current need," Mr Vijayan said.
Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala, terming the chief minister's decision as cruel, said coronavirus test results take four to seven days and cannot be obtained within 48 hours. Besides, it would also impose a financial burden on the returnees who are currently facing unemployment, he said, adding that he would observe a fast in front of the state secretariat on June 19 against the alleged apathy of the state and central governments towards expats.
Kerala has sought specific quarantine guidelines from the centre for residents of the state who are landing in Delhi, Mumbai or other cities and then reaching their homestate.
"Instead of them going through mandatory quarantine twice in two states, if they get tickets to proceed to Kerala within five days, they should be allowed to quarantine themselves in Kerala. But it would be best, if flights are extended to the state", Pinarayi Vijayan said.
Kerala has reported at least 2,622 coronavirus cases with 20 deaths so far.