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From Bihar to Dubai in the lockdown: Traveller's tale

By ABHIJIT MASIH
Last updated on: August 28, 2020 12:14 IST
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'Through multiple transportation modes, flood waters, a couple of PPE kits, multiple temperature checks, quarantine check point, immigration approval, health declaration forms and through two Covid tests, which thankfully were negative, I finally reached home in Dubai.'
Abhijit Masih reveals what it takes to embark on an international journey in the times of the pandemic.

IMAGE: A flight takes off at Mumbai airport. Kindly note that all images have been posted only for representational purposes. Photograph: PTI Photo
At home: Chhapra, Bihar

I live and work in Dubai and had come home to Chhapra before the lockdown was announced.

I got stuck for the entire duration of the lockdown and was keenly following updates on flight resumptions.

Once the air bubbles were announced, it was time to get the necessary approvals in place from UAE immigration.

Thankfully, I received the approval instantly and at the first attempt.

There were many who got rejected 10 or 15 times.

The approval was valid for 21 days.

However before I could fly, the approval process was discontinued. Now all resident visa holders could return provided they had a RT-PCR COVID-19 Negative Test Report.

All this while, I had joined a Facebook group 'UAE Expats Stuck Abroad', which was a huge help, as there were constant updates on new rules and regulation and experiences of other expats from all over the world, trying to make their way back to the UAE.

The journey starts for Dubai

IMAGE: Passengers stand in a long queue at the Jayaprakash Narayan airport in Patna. Photograph: PTI Photo

Since Bihar has only one airport catering to the entire state, the passenger traffic is the heaviest.

As per a report, Patna's Jayaprakash Narayan airport has been the busiest airport in terms of departing passengers in August 2020.

Since I was stuck in Chhapra during the lockdown, which is 80 km away from Patna, my eventful journey commenced there.

I had to be mindful of the floods ravaging the state, which is an annual phenomenon.

So apart from driving to Patna, we did encounter some floating as well, as the flood waters had come on to the road at various places.

The check-in process at Patna airport, with all the added procedures, was fairly smooth.

CISF personnel now have to check the ticket/boarding card and ID twice and have to maintain a digital record.

A stopover in Mumbai for a COVID-19 test

IMAGE: Passengers wearing face masks arrive at Patna airport. Photograph: PTI Photo

The travel attire is a far cry from the airport look that people flaunted pre-Corona.

Masks, Gloves, Face shields, PPE kits, sanitising of seats, seat belt, tray tables are a normal sight now.

The waiting area at Patna airport looked the same -- crowded.

Not much physical distancing possible here.

The flight to Mumbai was packed, no in-flight food service with only bottles of water provided if requested.

Mumbai was a pit stop before I took the flight to Dubai.

That's because I needed the COVID-19 test report, which is mandatory for travelling to the UAE.

The report needs to be issued 96 hours before the flight, so I had planned a three day stay in Mumbai.

Landing in Mumbai seemed like arriving at a ghost airport.

No holding pattern before landing, no line of waiting aircraft on the runway waiting their turn to take off.

At Mumbai airport

IMAGE: A Covid test in Mumbai. Photograph: ANI Photo

After picking up the baggage, you need to fall in line, not much social distance here as well.

You need to go through another health check and then to the BMC counter set up at the exit.

They will brand your hand with the mandatory 14 day home quarantine stamp.

Since I had an international flight within 7 days, I was exempt from the stamp.

I had to show my onward flight ticket and my ID.

Covid test in Mumbai

IMAGE: The Nasal swab test. Photograph: PTI Photo

Next was a a quick stop at the Suburban Lab in Lokhandwala, north west Mumbai, for the RT-PCR Test with an existing appointment of course, where they took a throat and nasal swab.

I dreaded the nasal swab, but it wasn't that uncomfortable.

Efficiently, the report was received by e-mail the very next morning.

With printed copies of the COVID-19 Negative Report and the Immigration approval, I was now ready for the last leg of the journey.

At Mumbai airport enroute Dubai

IMAGE: A passenger outside the Mumbai international airport. Photograph: PTI Photo

It is always advisable to reach the airport early.

Three hours is good enough.

The flight was in the morning.

There is now a long line to enter the terminal building.

The airline ground staff give you two health declaration forms to fill and check your RT-PCR Report.

Another temperature check before the gate and get the health declaration form stamped by the health officer.

Through the CISF remote check station and you are in the terminal.

The check-in process was fairly simple and normal.

They do check the visa validity and the Covid report before the boarding pass is issued.

Airlines flying low loads does not mean that they will be lenient with the baggage allowance.

Some things remain the same and so does the charges for that extra kilo.

Scene at Mumbai airport

IMAGE: Inside Mumbai international airport. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

Since currently there are only limited international flights operating, the terminal was absolutely empty.

The flight status board had only 9 flights mentioned on the screen for the day.

The bars are shut, the lounge is shut, only a few eating places and shops are operational.

The time that you would have pre-Covid spent roaming around the airport shopping, eating or having that one-for-the-air drink, could be used gearing up as if you are flying to the moon, wearing your PPE kit, face shield and gloves.

However, the more adventurous were happy with just their masks on.

There were many bordering on paranoia, spraying, disinfecting every object in proximity.

The seats in the waiting area have alternate ones blocked to maintain social distancing.

The boarding was smooth, even though the flight was almost full to capacity.

No social distancing on the flight again, the middle seat is not vacant as reports would suggest.

A travel hygiene kit was provided, which included a mask, gloves, sanitiser sachets and anti-bacterial wipes.

On board the aircraft, everything else was the usual, other than the PPE kit clad cabin crew.

There was another health declaration form provided, which was to be filled and handed over in Dubai.

Arrival in Dubai

IMAGE: A passenger seen through a thermal camera at Dubai airport. Photograph: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Landing in Dubai was an entirely different experience from the countless times that I might have done in the 15 years that I have lived in the UAE.

It would not take you more than 20 minutes to get out of the airport after landing, going through the smart gates for residence visa holders, picking up baggage and also through the customary Dubai duty free grab and go practice.

The smart gates are shut and you have to go through the immigrations desk.

But before that, there is a separate area before immigration where your documents are checked and scanned before proceeding to the health check up booths where they conduct another Covid test.

Instructions are clearly mentioned to home quarantine till the result is sent to your registered mobile.

Once you get a negative report, you are free to move about.

Other than the wait for the test, which took about an hour, the rest of the process was normal and smooth.

My COVID-19 resolution

Thus, through multiple transportation modes, flood waters, a couple of PPE kits, multiple temperature checks, quarantine check point, immigration approval, health declaration forms and through two Covid tests, which thankfully were negative, I finally reached home in Dubai.

I love travelling, but I am not likely to be travelling anytime soon.

Apart from the many other things the coronavirus has spoilt, it definitely has taken the fun out of travelling.

So unless it is an emergency and someone provides me a first class ticket with an all expenses paid trip to New Zealand, I am not leaving on another trip.

 

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

 

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