Operation Samudra Setu: India’s first ship carrying 698 repatriated expats arrive in Kerala

Operation Samudra Setu: India’s first ship carrying 698 repatriated expats arrive in Kerala


Indian Navy’s INS Jalashwa, operation Samudra Setu on Sunday arrived at Kochi Harbour (Ernakulam district) bringing back 698 expats stranded in Male, Maldives.

It is the Indian Navy’s first massive evacuation exercise amid the covid outbreak and part of ‘Samudra Setu’ program under the Vande Bharat mission to rescue stranded Indians, billed as the world’s largest repatriation activity.It is also the largest lot of expat arriving at Kerala in a single day. The numbers of returnees are expected to rise even more by the end of the day. A second ship of the Indian navy, INS Magar, is also scheduled to arrive in from the Maldives for Kochi later on Sunday. Separately, Cargo and passenger ship, MV Arabian Sea also arrived from Lakshadweep carrying 121 passengers in Kochi.

Three more flights— two from Doha and one from Kuala Lumpur— are also supposed to bring in hundreds of stranded expats to Kerala by Sunday evening. This is followed by nearly half a dozen flights that carried thousands of people in the last two days. The bulk of them are quarantined in Kerala, and two have already tested positive for covid-19, beginning what is seen as the rise of the next wave of infections in the state. The developments come at a time when it had become one of the few Indian states to successfully flattened the virus curve so far.

Out of the 505 recorded infections, except 17 active infections and 3 casualties, all the rest have recovered in Kerala till Saturday. The state had brought down the number of active infections from 300 a month ago to 30 on Wednesday. All of this stands to change with the expat returnees. Kerala, though, has welcomed expats wholeheartedly and expects a rise in infections. ‘We should be more careful now than ever before,” said Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Saturday.

The returnees also face a social crisis back home. A total of 633 out of the 698 people returned from the Maledives, majority of them migrant labourers, have reportedly lost jobs over the financial fallout of the covid-19 pandemic. In view of the health risk they pose, the state had set in place a protocol to facilitate their deboarding.

After arriving the ship arrived at the Cruise Terminal of the Cochin Port Trust, they were segregated and screened for fever and other covid-19 symptoms, before deboarded, the local police said. Inspector-General of Police in Ernakulam, Vijay Sakhare, had earlier said that as many as 440 people in the ship are from Kerala. They will be transported to their home districts in state-run buses, following social distancing and other health protocols and accompanied by the police, said the police. But, they will be placed in compulsory institutional quarantine for 14 days. Those from other states will be quarantined in Ernakulam for the next 14 days. The state had prepared over three lakh isolation beds for the purpose across districts in anticipation of the returnees.

Rohith Kukkadapu

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