Australian national Alison Gibberd is faced with a unique problem in Kerala. The state government's mandatory 28-day isolation for air passengers to contain the spread of COVID-19 has delayed Alison's return to her home town of Melbourne. Her entire India trip was for a mere 11 days, she tells TNM. However, she and her friend will now have to stay in quarantine in Munnar, Idukki, for an additional 17 days, after which they hope to fly back home.
Back in Australia too, Alison and her friend will be placed in home quarantine for 14 days, she says.
â€śThe Australian government is telling everyone to get home as soon as possible because of flights being cancelled. If we are here for 28 days we may not be able to get home,â€ť says Alison. She alleges that she got no answers from health officials when she asked why the government is insisting on the 28-day quarantine.
Over the last week, several foreign nationals in Kerala have been quarantined in the state due to the mandatory (although essential) isolation period to contain the spread of the epidemic.
Considering the present circumstances, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday announced fresh guidelines for foreign nationals in the state, allowing those tested negative for COVID-19 to fly out of the state.
"As per the new guidelines, the health department will now test all foreign nationals present in Kerala. Once they are tested negative for coronavirus, they will be allowed to travel. Persons tested positive will then be moved to isolation wards and observation centres," Ernakulam sub-collector Snehil Kumar Singh told TNM. He added that the district is also ramping up care homes and isolation wards which match international standards, in order to accomodate COVID-19 positive foreign nationals.
With the Chief Ministerâ€™s announcement, Alison will now have to travel 100km to take the test, which she hopes will return negative.
But many of Keralaâ€™s 5000-odd foreign tourists say they have faced another unique problem.
With hotels, homestays and resorts denying accommodation to foreign tourists due to panic over COVID-19, the Kerala government now faces the huge task of housing them in clean and safe centres, until they fly back to their home countries. Many of the districts are already setting up safe centres to house their foriegn guests.
On Tuesday, Thiruvananthapuram collector K Gopalakrishnan announced that the district administration has set up care homes to house all foreign nationals under observation. Speaking about the care homes, Thiruvananthapuram sub collector K Inbasekar said, â€śWe have identified different buildings including hotels in the city where foreign nationals suspected to have COVID-19 can be isolated. In case of hospitals, only patients who are severely affected will be shifted.â€ť
Meanwhile, the Collector said more number of officers have also been deployed at the international airport to screen passengers.
"Activities to offer guidelines and safety to those quarantined in their homes is also satisfactory. We are receiving the help of peopleâ€™s representatives including MLAs etc for this purpose. 18 teams are functioning in the district to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Another special team has been appointed to receive and address complaints regarding the functioning of the 18 teams," the collector's note read.
Speaking to TNM, Alison and her friend added that apart from the extended quarantine, she and her friend have faced hostility and ostracisation from restaurants, home stays and the public due to panic over the spread of coronavirus.
"On the way to Munnar, we stopped at a local restaurant. My friend didn't want to go in. The driver assured me it would be fine, so I went in, but as soon as I sat down the driver said the restaurant owner asked me to leave,â€ť she explains, adding that certain others fled the area when they saw the duo.
"I am sure it is because I am a foreigner," she adds.
Multiple instances of foreign nationals, who have tested positive for the coronavirus, escaping quarantine to fly back to their home countries has also contributed to the hostility and discrimination that these tourists now face.