KUWAIT: Passengers arrive at Kuwait International Airport on August 1, 2020, the day commercial flights resumed after months of shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Kuwait’s government is expected to announce soon a new online platform to facilitate the return of expatriate public sector employees who are stuck in countries where commercial flights with the Gulf state are banned, according to multiple local reports published yesterday.

The education ministry is reportedly coordinating with other state departments to bring in public school teachers stuck abroad before the 2020/2021 school year starts in October 4. The ministry’s acting undersecretary Faisal Al-Maqseed confirmed in statements to Al-Jarida Arabic daily that coordination is ongoing with the interior and health ministries to secure teachers’ return, promising that this issue will be resolved “soon.” To help achieve that, authorities are looking to develop a smartphone app or website where eligible expat state employees can register, and their respective employers can follow up their return process.

Meanwhile, Al-Anbaa Arabic daily quoted ‘informed government sources’ who said that the education and health ministries, which employ the largest numbers of expatriates among all state departments, have already provided lists of their employees stuck abroad and whose services are needed. “They have also presented recommendations on employees’ dates return and necessary quarantine measures they should take upon arrival,” the anonymous sources said.

‘Hotspot’ countries
While the airport is open for flights from around the world, Kuwait announced a list of 34 ‘hotspot’ countries to and from which flights are suspended until further notice. A considerable number of state employees from countries on the list, mainly Egypt and India, became stranded abroad after Kuwait closed its airport on March 13 due to the COVID-19 spread. The government hasn’t made available the official number of staff who are unable to return to Kuwait due to travel restrictions, but their numbers are estimated to be in the thousands.

Although there are efforts to come up with a mechanism to return public sector employees, there hasn’t been any internal discussion regarding the fate of stranded expatriate private sector employees, whose only way to return to Kuwait is through a ‘third party’ country where they must stay for a 14-day quarantine period and obtain a PCR test certificate showing a negative COVID-19 test result before flying to Kuwait.

The other countries included in the list are Afghanistan, Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Nepal, Northern Macedonia, Panama, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Serbia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Syria and Yemen.

100 percent capacity
Commercial flights had resumed at Kuwait International Airport on August 1 after months of closure, operating at a 30 percent capacity during the six-month first phase of a three-stage airport reopening plan. However, the operational plan has not exceeded 15 percent so far, according to a senior official at the airport. “Travel restrictions will automatically be lifted and operational capacity will go back to 100 percent once a vaccine becomes available in Kuwait,” Saleh Al-Fadhaghi, Deputy General Manager for the Airport Affairs, told Al-Qabas Arabic daily.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has also outlined a set of rules for the safe resumption of air travel. The rules mandate all travelers to wear protective facemasks and keep a hand sanitizer in their possession, besides strictly abiding by social distancing guidelines and keeping hand luggage to a minimum. Arriving passengers must register to the ‘Shlonik’ app before boarding, and obtain an accredited PCR certificate showing negative COVID-19 test results valid for 96 hours from the test’s date (excluding children under the age of six).

Passengers will have their temperatures checked before boarding the plane and upon arrival, while a random PCR test will be conducted for 10 percent of passengers on each flight. All arriving passengers must home quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Meanwhile, the DGCA has reportedly suggested reducing the quarantine period to seven days in a bid to help recover a Kuwaiti aviation industry hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. In the meantime, the Public Authority for Civil Information announced that expatriates can use the ‘Kuwait Mobile ID’ smartphone application as proof of having residency permit while traveling and to enter Kuwait.

Departing passengers, on the other hand, are required to register to the ‘Kuwait Mosafer’ app and provide negative COVID-19 test results before boarding their flights to destinations where such tests are required. Citizens are also required to obtain travel insurance that covers COVID-19 treatment. Manual checks of tickets have now been scaled back as a result of the pandemic in favor of the more popular digital e-tickets, whose scanning requires no physical contact. Passengers must be present at the airport no less than four hours before departure to ensure a smooth and convenient journey.