As thousands of Indian expatriates wait to return home once the government begins to facilitate repatriation, 44-year-old J. Ramachandran, a medical professional in Oman, said he fears for both his health and future, as the numbers of those contracting the novel coronavirus in the West Asian country grow. Mr. Ramachandran, who works as a hospital administrator at one of the big healthcare chains, said that hospitals are running out of space for patients.
“Everyday we are receiving more and more cases of patients with coronavirus symptoms,” Mr. Ramachandran told The Hindu over the telephone, “In most cases, we turn away those who don’t have very serious symptoms as we don’t have enough beds,” he added, explaining that as “frontline workers” Indians face the highest risk from the virus.
According to official figures, Oman has about 5,000 hospital beds, which include only about 147 ICU beds. As the number of COVID-19 patients crossed 2,700, with a sharp upswing in the past two weeks, officials have been warning about a shortage of facilities. In April, Health Minister Mohammed Al Said reportedly told journalists at a press conference that if the pandemic continued to accelerate, the “number of beds in ICUs in Oman may not be enough to accommodate cases”. In particular, said medical professionals, drugs to treat COVID-19, personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks were in short supply in private hospitals.
However, Indian embassy officials said the situation was under control. “COVID situation in Oman is not that bad,” said a diplomat, adding that “Oman had the least number of cases per million and deaths per million in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) region”.
Mr. Ramachandran said the biggest fear for him and other hospital staff who were registered to leave, was that of contracting the novel coronavirus before they were able leave, as the government had made it clear it would not allow anyone with COVID symptoms to board the planes and the ships being organised to bring them back.
At the same time, Mr. Ramachandran said professionals and workers, who make up a large number of the 7.7 lakh Indians who live and work in the Gulf kingdom, were worried about losing their jobs. Last week, Oman’s Finance Ministry issued a new set of guidelines ordering state-owned companies to “expedite replacement of expatriates with Omanis”. While the process of “Omanization” or preferential treatment for Omani citizens has been on for decades, Indian expatriates said they were finding fewer jobs, and less opportunities for them to bring their families to Oman to live.
Mr. Ramachandran said he had worked in Muscat and the Omani city of Sohar for the past year before deciding to tender his resignation in March this year, and returning to his hometown of Coimbatore for that reason. However, before he could arrange his return, the government had clamped down on all incoming travel. Since then, he had written several letters to the Tamil Nadu government and even to the Prime Minister’s Office, in the hope that he would be allowed to return soon.
“Now that the government has said it will allow stranded Indians to return, I am happy, but I don’t really know how long it will take before I get my turn,” he said, as thousands of others had registered to leave as well.