This is the first person narrative of Mr. Sekhar S, who got tested covid 19 positive upon return from Dubai after a short visit to there from Kerala just before the outbreak of the pandemic
To my horror, the airport was crowded. It was my first time at the Dubai airport but it was really crowded. There were not many vehicles but there were a lot of people outside sitting on the ground in the front of the airport. I had carried my passport and other documents with me in a sling bag and my check in luggage was a good 22 kg which I rolled in. If I felt the outside was crowded , the inside was pandemonium. Kids running around without masks, adults running round, some of them behind the kids. It was damp and humid. Most of the staff were Indians and most among them Malayalees. I asked a lady in airport uniform what was I supposed to do and I was ushered by her to a place which was even more crowded. There were chairs which had some reminiscence of social distancing among them but 3 weeks of people storming the airport has all rendered it ineffective. People were lax and most of them didn’t bother with keeping their chairs apart. There were all relieved that they were getting to travel home. Most of the people were on high spirits. There were kiosks instead of food vending machines with Covid kits, masks, sanitizers and gloves selling at a premium. There After a while an employee of the airport made an announcement asking for people traveling to TRV to submit their passports with him. There were tables set in a row with a medical professional in PPE kits taking blood samples for rapid antibody test. After a while I was called to a table to get my rapid test done.
It took all of 5 mins. They take your blood similar to the way in a glucometer . I was asked to wait and in 5 minutes was given my passport back with a fit to fly sticker pasted on it. All this time, the person who took my passport to the one who gave me back and the medical professional who did my checks, personally I felt they were lax. Multiple passports were stacked and he was going from table to table asking for the owners passing them on. It was the same way they were collected too. I put my hands on the table in front of the nurse which now I recollect everyone has been doing. They didn’t stop me or give me any sort of precautionary instructions in this regard. They didn’t tell me anything about the results, only that if I was found positive they wouldn’t let me board the flight. I immediately went to the check in counter. There was some rush, there was a single line which extended to four rows. Everyone was relieved, were on phone or chatting with the next person in line. It took a good hour for my turn to reach and I had to tell the guy standing behind me multiple times to keep distance. The check in was normal it didn’t take any time, my luggage was checked in, I was issued a boarding pass. The flight was IX1540 , seat 27 B . Next in line was immigration. The whole process was less than 5 mins.
I had overstayed on my visa for more than 2 months by the time now. Wished me a happy journey and I was let go. I proceeded to the security check. I was not asked to remove my shoes but was asked to remove my belt wallet and watch. There was no body patting, I walked in through a metal detector gate and that was it. The Arab officer was very kind and asked me in Hindi jovially how I was and whether I have had food. The effort definitely made me smile. This and the emigration was the only time I came face to face with an Arab national. Rest of them were all Indians and particular Malayaless. I went to the rest room and carefully removed my glows and mask, disposed them off, washed my face and hands thoroughly and wore new ones. Then began the almost 3 hr wait for the Gate to open and boarding. This is where it got risky. The waiting area in front of the gate was flooded with people, some of them with no masks to some of them in full PPE kits. Hand luggage were kept on the chairs, the placards with don’t use write non them which was kept on alternate chairs were lying on the floor. All the shops including money exchanges, ATMs were closed. I managed to sit in the counter of the KFC near the check in area with an eye on the gate. Finally after 2 hrs the gate to my flight was open. We were called according to seat numbers. The bus that transported us didn’t have enough seats for all the people in it, so a few of them were standing. There were multiple trips. I realised I had finished one bottle of sanitizer by the time. It was opened on the same day morning. Had two more with me.
We were seated two rows at a time. When I got to my seat, I found a small box with a Muthoot logo on it. It was a small food packet. It had a sandwich, a cake and there was a small bottle of water . There was also a small sanitizer sachet and a mask. I was in the middle seat and the person to my right was wearing a full PPE kit with a shield. The flight was delayed for 40 mins. The pilot made an announcement stating that there would be no cabin service, ie for the duration of the flight there would be no cabin crew available to cater to our needs. He emphasised that it was a repatriation flights and people would refrain from touching anything unnecessarily and refrain from using the toilets as much as possible. The flights was full, most of the people didn’t have the food. It was more than 8 hrs since I have had anything, so I had the food. The person to my left would have emptied a minimum of two sanitizer bottles cleaning the hand rest and seat repeatedly. A lot of people did use the toilet, it was a 4 hrs flight. When we began the descent, the captain reminded us to carry the forms that we were supposed to fill and bring along. When the flight touched down, unlike the usual commotion people actually obeyed the captain’s order to stay in their seats. A person’s name was called out through the PA and he was taken away from the airplane first. It was told to us later by people from seats nearby that he had severe fever and was coughing throughout the flight. Then pregnant women and people with minors were asked to disembark and later we were all asked to get out of the aircraft according to our rows. It was a welcome scene as I have always found the unnecessary commotion to get out of an aircraft barbaric.
I got out of the aircraft and walked through the aerobridge straight into the men’s room. Removed my gloves and mask, washed my face and hands till my elbow and wore a new set of them. We were sent to a very long line which I initially didn’t know the purpose of. Found out it was a line for giving out the forms that we were supposed to carry, we were asked about whether we had any symptoms of the disease, what our preferences for quarantine was etc. The people were all in PPE kits. Some of them where from the police a few from the CRPF or so. I could make out the police because they used RT sets. It seemed like unlike the Dubai airport these people were all keeping their distance with the passengers. I asked for 14 days of Institutional quarantine and was given it in writing in one of the forms. They later told me it was mandatory for everyone to undergo institutional quarantine for 14 days. There was a small commotion because a lot of returning expats didn’t have a working Indian sim and was told that it was mandatory that they had one since it was with the sim they tracked us. The CM of Kerala, in one of his press meetings had told that every returning expat would be given a free sim for the same. The official at the desk told us that the free sim program was for a day and that too for the first flight.
There was not a single shop open including ATMs or other kiosks. There were people who didn’t anticipate this and faced problems later. Next thing was immigration, which was done in a make shift table and desk by two AAI employees in full PPE kits. We proceeded to collect our luggage which came soaking wet in disinfectant. We were then asked to proceed to a waiting area where we were to be sorted to arrange for travel. This was supposedly the last step. When we walked towards the counters, I noticed 3 girls standing with smiles and food packets in their hands. By this time it was more than 12 hrs since I have had any proper food. These girls grabbed our attention saying that food is available and there is no food anywhere else till we reach our quarantine and it was unlikely that they had any food there at this point of night. It was past 2 am. I grabbed the food packet hoping there would be some Kerala food which I haven’t had in ages. I was asked to pay 150 Rs for a sandwich, cake and Amul cold coffee can. This was done by revenue officers without PPE kits. I could see they were really keeping their distance and it gave the impression they were really scared or worried. . These were the first set of people I saw without a a PPE kit. There were a total of 38 people traveling to Kollam. I went out and saw a bus waiting for me. My luggage was almost 25 kgs and I was really tired from the 12 hr trip. The steps to the buses were pretty high. There were a lot of policemen in uniform and in mufti even though it was at 2.30 in the morning. They did keep distance and moved away like magnets when I approached one of them to ask something. While waiting in the bus I saw a couple of people getting in private taxies and leaving. (Institutional quarantine mandatory at this point_) We waited for some 20 mins for the bus to fill and driver to come.
The front portion of the vehicle, from the door was not accessible to people. It was cordoned off to protect the driver. The bus was supposed to seat 20 people comfortably. 2 people in the longer seats and one person in the single seats. What the authorities didn’t account for was that almost all these people were traveling with more than 30 kgs of luggage which mostly were heavy bags and suitcases which didn’t fit in the passage between seats and had to be put on seats. Also most of the people were old or sick and needed help getting their luggage in the bus which was also not accounted for. After about 20 minutes of wait, the bus started moving. I was standing in the door well of the front door. The driver passed me bottles of water to pass on to the passengers who were all exhausted. The bus moved on without any stops for a while. We were escorted by Revenue officers in their private vehicles for a while, then by a police jeep. The bus only stopped after it entered Kollam border. All this while all of us in the bus were getting calls enquiring about our details and where abouts. We were taken to a hotel first where a few of the people disembarked. I had to get the luggage of an elderly couple from the bus as they were both not in a position to get it from the bus. We were taken to 2 more places and was finally taken to a lodge and was told that this is the only available place left for the 8 of us. We had to stay there no matter what. So we disembarked, all 8 of us. A girl with me had a heavy suitcase and she had a heart condition and couldn’t lift weights or climb stairs fast for that matter. After we got out of the bus we realised that the lodging was in the 2nd floor. I carried her suitcase to the second floor first and then followed with mine. The officers present were all kind but were all keeping their distance because of the fear of the disease. There was an old lady who was a cancer patient and submitted her documents at the airport for hospital/ home quarantine but was denied the same and was sent with us. There was another person with an issue with his leg and was given the one room on the ground floor. We were all tired, the room was a medium one with an attached bath. I immediately took bath, changed and was about to sleep when someone knocked on the door and asked whether I needed bananas or bread as it was 4 in the morning and they didn’t have anything else. ( To be continued)
First Part Link-