KUWAIT: In this August 1, 2021 file photo, people are seen shortly after arrival at Kuwait International Airport on the first day of allowing residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to re-enter Kuwait after a six-month ban. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Residents stranded abroad are required to be fully vaccinated before they are allowed to enter Kuwait. They should also register and get certification from their governments and validate their health vaccines with the health ministry in Kuwait. But many are facing difficulties getting their vaccines approved.

Abidugun, a resident from Lagos, Nigeria who has been working in Kuwait for the past 15 years, said he followed all the necessary procedures required by Kuwait, but to his dismay his health status is unchanged. “I have taken both doses of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine since June and submitted all my details and documents to the MoH website as recommended, after which I got a confirmation message of receipt. But surprisingly, I have not got the ‘green approval’ till date, even though the MoH told us the process will only take three days,” he said.

“It is so frustrating; I have changed my ticket two times, which resulted in a lot of expenses. Some of my friends who traveled to Europe and other countries didn’t even need to take the vaccine. All that was required was a (negative) PCR test. But here we are – we did all that is needed but are still stuck here. I hope everything will be okay in the coming days,” Abidugun added.

Difficulties despite vaccines
Legal residents may enter Kuwait since Aug 1, but they must be fully vaccinated with jabs recognized by Kuwait – namely Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna. But even those who are vaccinated and have approval from the health ministry are finding it difficult to return.

For example, people from several countries including Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka cannot access direct flights. Although there has been no official statement in this regard, people traveling from these five countries should quarantine for 14 days in a third country and undergo a PCR before coming to Kuwait.

“We tried transiting through a third country in April, but we were stuck in Dubai for 40 days,” said Lalu, an Indian currently in Kerala and unable to return to Kuwait. “We are really anxious about the situation. We want to re-enter Kuwait as a family, but it’s very risky because of the direct flight ban,” he said.

“My concern is about my family members – what if one of them gets a positive result? This will lead to further delays and additional expenses. I cannot afford this now because most of my savings were gone when we tried our luck in Dubai in April. My plan B is for me to leave alone for a third country so that I can re-enter Kuwait and work again. I need to go back to work and earn money. My family situation is getting worse every day – it’s very difficult,” Lalu lamented.

“I hope Kuwait will open its borders. They can easily implement a 20-day quarantine inside Kuwait. At least it will help the hotels and give jobs to many. It’ll be a win-win solution. Why force us to quarantine in a third country when we can stay inside Kuwait and pay the hotel?” he asked. There are no official statistics available on how many residents are still waiting to return to Kuwait. But local Arabic media, quoting unnamed sources, has reported more than 165,000 residents have applied for approval of their vaccines received abroad.

A Filipina who went to the US in February for vacation had to wait days for her vaccine status to be updated. “I was supposed to arrive in Kuwait on August 2, but my immunization status wasn’t changed – it was still red. I told my husband to check with the ministry of health, but for several days he wasn’t successful,” she said. “Only on August 8 when I tried for the tenth time that suddenly the green status appeared on my civil ID. Thank God, I will be flying back to Kuwait next week,” she said.

Stranded in Dubai
Meanwhile, some residents stranded in the UAE are having difficulties getting vaccines from the UAE government, even though tourists are allowed to get vaccinated. Grace Martinez, a Filipina married to an Egyptian and a resident of Kuwait, said her two sons have been stranded in Dubai since Jan 25 and are facing several challenges.

“There has been no luck until now for the vaccine for my two sons stranded in Dubai. They have tried several places set up for tourists to get the jab, but they were unsuccessful. They went to several places in Dubai, only to be turned down by vaccination officers. They are told the vaccines are only for residents of Dubai and not for tourists,” Martinez said, quoting her son.

“My two sons – Rashid (23 years old) and Raed (21) are stranded in Dubai for the last eight months. They have valid residency of Kuwait since the government allowed them to renew their visas from abroad, but the problem is Kuwait needs two doses of vaccines to be taken before they can enter the country. We are still hoping for my two boys to get the vaccine; it’s really very difficult. I am too stressed with this situation right now,” she added.

Abu Dhabi is offering tourists free COVID-19 vaccinations that were previously restricted to UAE citizens and residency visa holders. But they have implemented travel restrictions with other emirates. “It’s not easy to move from one emirate to another. We were told that the same program was available for tourists in Dubai, so we visited several vaccination centers, but they won’t vaccinate tourists,” Rashid said.

Just before the rollout of vaccines in December last year, residents from certain countries had to spend 14 days in a third country before arriving to Kuwait, so many residents chose Dubai as their quarantine destination. But months after the implementation of this third-country quarantine rule, Kuwait cancelled the order, leaving hundreds if not thousands of Kuwait-based workers stranded in these countries.