There appears to be no end to the chaos being unleashed due to half-thought measures and contradictory messages emanating at the policy level in the government. Even while the country witnessed the conundrum of domestic migrants' transportation, happening at least 8 weeks late and at the most inopportune time, an ill-conceived plan of action has been rolled out for bringing back the Indians stranded overseas.
Once again, in a sudden notification issued on May 5, flights to evacuate Indians were announced from May 7 onwards with a slew of attendant procedures, costs, and conditions. Once again, the announcement comes without consultation with the affected people, embassies and states which are expected to comply with directions within 2 days. What is being proclaimed as a humanitarian measure is fraught with hardships for the stranded people and contradictions in their treatment as potential COVID-19 carriers.
It is not clear how the priority list of the countries was decided, some of them hotbeds currently (USA, UK), while several others that are still left out are virtually risk-free having almost completely eliminated the virus (Taiwan, Australia, South Korea). There appears to be no distinction in terms of containment measures for the evacuees taking into account the state of the pandemic abroad. It now appears that for those who cannot pay for quarantine in a hotel or hospital, would be sheltered in common facilities.
Now the contradictions:
While the repatriation of migrant labourers is being cited as human consideration and their need to be in the comfort of their homes, there is little thought of the trauma that Indians stranded for even longer periods would undergo by an additional separation of 14 days from their families.
Many of these would be elderly, in frail health needing comfort and medical attention (for non-COVID-19 ailments), and emotionally disturbed. They could easily be permitted self-isolation at home on par with mild COVID-19 patients. For many, the quarantine institution itself may become a source of infection, looking at the way the virus has spread in healthcare facilities.
Considering that most of these people are already in a state of lockdown in their destinations, and many of these countries are no longer in the risk category (green zone equivalent), there should be no reason to confine everyone to institutional quarantine for 14 days. Instead, ease both their suffering as well as the substantial costs by permitting them homestay with reasonable monitoring and testing, if considered essential. The government should also release the COVID-19 facilities for housing actual patients or their contacts.
(The author is an expert in international travel and a visiting faculty with Delhi University on travel and tourism.)