Naval ship INS Jalashwa carrying 698 Indians from the Maldives arrived at Kochi port a little after 9 a.m. on Sunday. Part of Operation Samudra Setu, this is the first group of Indian evacuees arriving home by sea after an international lockdown on all modes of transport took effect about two months ago against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ship berthed around 10 a. m. at the international cruise terminal of the port, which was fully ready to receive the evacuees, comprising 595 men and 103 women, including 14 children below the age of ten. There are also 19 pregnant women on board.
Of the arrivals, 440 are from Kerala. The rest are from Tamil Nadu and 18 other States and Union Territories. Sources in the district administration said that two passengers with fever were shifted to the Karuvelippady Taluk Hospital near the port area. They will now be tested for COVID-19.
Kochi City Police supervised the clearance and onward transportation of those who arrived according to a protocol for the operation, overseen by District Police Chief Vijay Sakhare.
Passengers who showed even mild COVID-19 symptoms and those with other health problems were taken care of separately. The passengers had embarked on the evacuation trip after preliminary screening for COVID-19. However, those with symptoms on arrival were isolated. Health, Police and Department of Immigration personnel in personal protection equipment (PPE) handled their papers. Thermal screening of the passengers was carried out by the Port Health Organisation.
Their luggage was disinfected by personnel from the Fire and Rescue Department.
Kerala State Transport Corporation buses took the passengers to their various destinations. Specially arranged taxis were also available for those who needed them. Those moving out of the district were escorted to the district border from where they were further followed to their homes by personnel from the respective police districts.
INS Jalashwa had set sail from the Maldives on May 8. The naval vessel, based in Visakhapatnam, is manned by a trained medical team and has been engaged in the past in evacuation operations, said a communication from Press Information Bureau.
INS Magar, another naval vessel based at the Southern Naval Command in Kochi, is set to start its Kochi voyage on Sunday itself as part of Operation Samudra Setu. The vessel is scheduled to bring 250 Indians. While embarkation of evacuees has begun, inclement weather was posing a problem, said sources. The ship would depart either on Sunday night or at first light on Monday, they said.