Published: 12th March 2020
Travel in the time of Corona: Why over 100 Indian students are stranded at Milan Airport
More than 100 Indian students are stranded in Italy because they must produce a COVID-19 Negative Certificate to fly. What will the MEA or the Consulate do to help?
With most parts of their faces covered with N95 masks and fearful eyes, more than 100 Indian students have been waiting at Milan's Manpensa Airport since March 10. Had everything gone to plan, they would have been home safe and sound by now. But after the Air India flight refused to fly them down without a COVID-19 Negative Certificate issued by an authorised government clinic, things started to go very, very wrong.
On Tuesday, the Government of India had made it mandatory for everyone travelling from Italy to produce this certificate. The students say that the decision was taken in a jiffy and most of them got to know about this only after reaching the airport. "I had called the Air India helpline the previous night to find out more about this. But they then told me that it wouldn't be a problem for me since I'm an Indian citizen. However, upon reaching the airport, they refused to check us in," says Mohammed Ashiq, a PhD scholar in the University of Verona. "Previously, the order was valid only for the citizens of Italy and South Korea. In fact, this was updated on the ministry's website only after we got to the airport," he adds.
Considering the high number of COVID-19 cases in Italy, Ashiq says that it will be practically impossible for any of these students to get a certificate right now. "In order to get tested in an authorised government clinic, one must have at least one of the symptoms of COVID-19. They don't entertain others, because these clinics are filled with patients," he says. Ashiq added that the aircraft that he was supposed to board took off with 83 passengers on the same day. "Now we do not know if all of them had the certificate from the authorised clinics because that seems highly impossible," he says.
Ashiq also tells us why this is not exactly a foolproof system. "Even after obtaining a certificate, the person can be exposed to the virus. There is no guarantee that they are not infected by the virus at the time of boarding the aircraft," he says. He also says that the Consulate General of India had verbally assured the students that they will communicate the issue to the Ministry of External Affairs for these students to get a waiver. Apart from Milan, a lot of Indians are stuck in Rome and Genoa.
What will happen to them?