The spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in Kerala has left Sanjay K.V, a 43-year-old Malayali expatriate working in Muscat, anxious.
Not having visited his parents back home since the outbreak of the pandemic two years ago, he has been jubilant about his scheduled trip with family next Thursday. Now, with the cases again on the rise, he is worried whether he will get stuck here if restrictions are imposed on re-entry to Muscat by the time he wraps up the month-long vacation.
“Such an uncertainty with repercussions for their jobs was what held back many people from travelling home last year amidst restricted services in air bubble,” said Mr. Sanjay a resident of Maradu.
Similar career threatening concerns are shared by large sections of Malayali expatriates set to visit home coinciding with the school vacation in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries between June and August.
Athira S. Kumar whose husband is posted in Bahrain said that there is likely to be an influx of Malayali expatriates this year since many had not been to home since 2020. “Many are not even waiting for the school closure on June 30 but have already started flying out taking advantage of online sessions being run by schools. Since there are no restrictions on travel at the moment other than vaccination, they are anxious to make it before potential restrictions kick in,” she said.
Pradeesh R. Nair, an expatriate from Aluva, faced last-minute dilemma just before he was to send his wife and kids back home to Aluva on Monday. “While vaccinated adults can travel freely, children in the 5-12 age group have to undergo RT-PCR tests since vaccination in that age group is yet to begin in Muscat. The test for my son returned a positive result though he had no symptoms forcing me to postpone the tickets to June 23 at an additional cost of ₹ 38,000,” he lamented.
Reshmi Rajesh working in Abu Dhabhi said that there is great excitement among the Malayali expatriates since this is the first vacation allowing unrestricted air travel since the outbreak of the pandemic a couple of years ago.
Qatar remains one of the few countries to persist with a quarantine protocol for air passengers except those with resident permit, double vaccination and the booster dose. While there are no restrictions in flying out, the possibility of the country issuing fresh restrictions on re-entry if a wave like situation happens in India cannot be ruled out, leaving many people confused about whether to go home or to wait for another year.
“My mother had taken the double doses of vaccination when she was with me here last year before flying back home. But now she can’t return as she hasn’t taken the booster dose and back home, they certify the booster does as the first dose since as per their records, it is her first vaccination dose in the country,” said Manoj Mohan, a techie based in Qatar.
Notwithstanding the many concerns, this has emerged to be the most suitable period for expatriates both in terms of unrestricted movement and the number of flight services since India resumed full-fledged commercial operations on March 27 this year lifting the air bubble in force since last June. “We have about 200 weekly departures and arrivals to and from GCC countries, which, in fact, exceeded the pre-pandemic level. The launch of international services by Go First Airline to Kuwait and Oman and Indigo to Saudi Arabia has further strengthened the services,” said Cochin International Airport Limited sources.