Friday, May 08, 2020

Kerala: Unsung Covid-19 warriors in the skies

Kochi: Even though the repatriation of Indians stranded abroad started smoothly on Thursday, the efforts that were put in to set the ball rolling was not easy for the stakeholders involved, especially the airlines that merely got a week to make the crew and aircraft mission-ready overcoming all the challenges posed by the Covid-19 lockdown worldwide.
Set to be one of the biggest aerial evacuation missions in Indian history, the Covid-19 evacuation is no different from those that took place mostly during wartime. In terms of the risks involved, the latest evacuation is more challenging.
Speaking to TOI, Captain Raj Kumar, who is the Chief of Operation of Air India Express, which is handling the majority of repatriation flights in Kerala in the first phase of expatriate evacuation, said that the airline crew involved in the evacuation is following the protocols similar to those implemented during operations undertaken in a biological war-zone.

To defend themselves against the pandemic and complete the mission without any hiccups, these unsung Covid-19 warriors had to make special arrangements like mandatory swab tests in addition to health checks before and after the flight, besides disinfection and self-quarantine before and after flights, and all the while wearing Hazmats kits onboard. Also, to handle passengers under the present scenario, they had to undergo special training with the help of doctors who have treated Covid-19 patients.

"The evacuation from a war-hit area is risky only at that time when the aircraft is within the war-zone, especially during landing, boarding, and take-off, but here the risk is involved throughout the mission as the crew involved can be infected with a deadly virus anytime. Nearly 200 passengers and the crew are put in a closed and air-conditioned metal container for more than three hours without social distancing and they are exposed to each other throughout the time. Moreover, they could come into physical contact anytime during the boarding, flight time, or disembarkation. Though Hazmat suits and headgears are provided to all crew and masks and sanitizers to each passenger, it is still risky. The airline crew also is now in the frontline of Covid-19 war," said Raj Kumar.
08/05/20 Anantha Narayanan K/Times of India

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