By Sandhya Soans
In the first week of March, the novel coronavirus outbreak also known as COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). By this time, in accordance with my plans for my future, I had already resigned from my job in Dubai, my UAE residency visa was under cancellation and I scheduled my travel for the end of March.
By the second week of March, the outbreak of Coronavirus had spread across the world. Reportedly, over 400,000 people had been infected and there were about 1000 fatalities, making it the biggest pandemic since the Spanish Flu in 1918.
Countries were closing borders and announcing a massive shut down. Things were getting worse by the hour, which is when I knew I had to expedite my exit.
I searched through the news websites to understand the situation of this global pandemic and the Coronavirus outbreak specifically in India. But, there was no clarity on the protocols followed at the Indian Airports or even the actual number of infected individuals. Each news website said something different, inciting more paranoia. As the days passed, the global shutdown became further evident and major airlines started canceling their flights. I could not overstay in the UAE, hence, I decided to fly within the week.
On the 16th of March 2020 - the Indian Ministry of Health extended its compulsory quarantine for a minimum of 14 days for all passengers coming in from and transiting through the UAE among other countries. As I was traveling from Dubai to Mangalore, I was certain that the health professional at the Dubai International Airport, as well as the Mangalore International Airport (MIA), would do their due diligence. I prepared myself mentally that I may have to undergo quarantine - be it voluntary or under the observation of the health professionals at the local hospital.
On the 20th March, just a day before all the flights were scheduled to stop operations I flew into Mangaluru. I reached the Dubai International Airport wearing two layers of clothes, a mask, gloves and armed myself with a stack of sanitizers. I sanitized every object in my sight - from the trolley to the suitcases I was carrying; from the chair, I was seated on to my passport and my phone. Dubai International Airport is one of the world’s busiest airports and I have been traveling to-and-fro for over five years now. But this time, the airport looked deserted with very few people and limited counters. Although for departures, there were no health examinations at the Dubai International Airport, I did see a few thermal cameras.
I boarded the flight - every passenger was wearing a mask including the check-in staff and the flight attendants. It looked like a scene from the next apocalyptic movie. I had booked a seat on the first row right next to the exit gate.
The next three and a half hours were the longest. The flight attendant distributed a “Self-Reporting Form” that had to be filled by all international passengers on board. Also, announcements were made on the flight to report if passengers experience any symptoms related to Coronavirus in the coming days.
The announcement said, “All passengers can call 01123978046 a 24x7 State Helpline Number provided by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India to report any health-related symptoms indicating Coronavirus.” I learned that announcements were made in all Indian Carriers traveling from COVID-19 affected countries including Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain, Germany, UAE, etc.
After reaching Mangalore Airport passengers formed a queue and had to go through three counters, before reaching the immigration desk. At the first counter – a medical staff checked the temperature. At the second counter – the filled-up Self-Reporting Form was accepted and the staff asked if anyone had any symptoms related to COVID-19. Lastly, at the third counter – a stamp was imprinted on the right hand indicating compulsory home quarantine.
I moved to the immigration desk and was asked general questions, collected my baggage and left the airport. I asked around the airport and understood that only people showing symptoms related to Coronavirus or passengers having regular fever, cough or any other sickness are Quarantined at the Wenlock Hospital in Mangalore. Healthy passengers are only asked to be home quarantined but must stay indoors as well as away from their family members as they might carry the virus from the co-passengers or their surroundings.
I think this is the least we should do, while the world is fighting this pandemic and the medical staff are risking their lives at the forefront – we can only contribute by social distancing.
Although slightly unpleasant, the process was smooth, quick and hassle-free and for that I am thankful. I am hopeful, with all the measures put in place by the Government, the spread will be contained. I write this from my Quarantine. I am isolated, but I don't feel so.
Stay Isolated. Stay Safe.
The Author, Sandhya Soans is a former staffer of Newskarnataka.com
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