Taking risk for a job in Kuwait: expat workers narrate process of return

Ray Alvin Lopez

By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Ray Alvin Lopez is a nurse at a private hospital in Kuwait. He is considered as a frontliner in the fight against COVID-19. He took his annual vacation in the first week of March, but in mid-March, the government imposed a total lockdown, preventing commercial flights from entering Kuwait to stop the spread of the coronavirus. So Ray Alvin was stuck in the Philippines for six months. Things got worse when the government imposed an entry ban on passengers arriving directly from 34 countries, including the Philippines, forcing him to transit in a ‘third country’ on his way back to Kuwait.

“It was a hard thing to do. But I took the risk because the company told me that they will shoulder all the expenses. I was afraid, because if I tested positive in the third country, it meant extended quarantine. I would be stuck in Dubai for an additional two weeks, so I was praying really hard. Thank God, I was negative from day one. The swabbing started in Manila – a day before the flight, the travel agency requires passengers to take a swab test. That was the first negative test I underwent. Then on arrival to Dubai, I tested negative again, and a day before leaving Dubai, I again tested negative,” Ray Alvin told Kuwait Times.

‘Everything arranged’
Ray Alvin said the travel agency arranged everything, including hotel accommodation and tickets to Dubai and Kuwait. “It’s an expensive process. The visa for my temporary stay in Dubai was at their expense too. It’s a special arrangement by my company with the travel agency. They arranged everything for me and all I did was to make sure I wasn’t positive from day one till arrival,” he said.

Ray Alvin said the returnees were advised by the hotel staff to not leave the room to make sure of testing negative when they travel to Kuwait. “It was just a piece of advice, as the hotel will allow you to go out after a negative swab test. I went out to enjoy Dubai, but with extra precautions,” he said. “The hotel where I stayed asked for a 500-dirham deposit in case I was carrying the disease. They said they will refund the amount if I test negative. Food costs were shouldered by me – only breakfast was free – so I spent money during the 15 days in Dubai.”

Ray Alvin arrived in Kuwait on Sept 1. Ten percent of passengers on the flight were subjected to random checks and he was not one of them. “On arrival to Kuwait, we were asked to register on the ministry app; you are required to take a selfie every four hours for the next seven days. If you fail to take a selfie, the ministry will call you because you are not allowed to leave your house for the next 14 days. The mobile phone should be switched on at all times and must have an Internet connection so they can check on you,” he concluded.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation had announced a set of rules that should be followed at Kuwait International Airport upon resumption of commercial flights back in August 1. 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.

Emergency leave
Jomar Perciano works as a chef and his wife Alvie works in a fashion company. “We took emergency leave in March for six days, but our emergency vacation lasted for six months. We went home because my uncle – who is very close to our family – died. Thanks to the six months, we were able to be with our two kids. They were very happy, but we need the job, so we took the risk (of returning via a third country),” Jomar said.

They paid for their travel back to Kuwait from their own pockets, and arrived here after 14 days in quarantine in Dubai in the first week of September. The Philippines is ranked 17th in coronavirus cases in the world. As of yesterday, coronavirus cases in the country reached 304,226 and deaths totaled 5,344, with 252,510 recoveries.