Repatriation flight | 25 May 2020
Seychellois patients arrive home
It was a ‘home sweet home’ arrival at the Seychelles International Airport on Saturday evening as our stranded citizens arrived home onboard a special Air Seychelles flight which landed at 9.55pm from a humanitarian mission in Sri Lanka and India respectively.
Quite a large number of family members and friends of the two sets of patients, who had been stranded in both Sri Lanka and India for more than three months and some even since last year, had gathered outside the airport as this facility was closed for the general public amid reinforced security for that day.
The Seychellois patients had been on treatment in these two Asian states for varying periods of time when the lockdown measures and more so the ban on travel in March had forced them to be stranded in these countries for almost three months as they waited for their repatriation after completing their treatment.
Nonetheless, when the President of the Republic, Danny Faure, announced in late April that the government were in negotiations to repatriate our stranded nationals in the coming weeks in compliance with the health guidelines, this initiated a monumental and meticulous planning from all parties concerned.
The trip required a lot of arrangements by our two high commissioners – Conrad Mederic in Sri Lanka and Selby Pillay in India – at a time where both countries were under strict lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact it was quite a strenuous process for the two high commissioners who had to negotiate with the two countries at a time when strict movement measures were in place and thanks to their hard work and determination, this repatriation fight finally took place.
Nonetheless the planning was quite complex, more so in India where not all of the 25 patients and eleven chaperons were receiving treatment from MIOT hospital whereas in Sri Lanka, HC Mederic had gathered all of his patients at the Best Western hotel and then later at Palitha Guesthouse which made it much easier to organise repatriation once all the arrangements were made with the Seychelles health department and our national airline Air Seychelles.
As for the patients, they were being given moral support as well as financial help especially in Sri Lanka as High Commissioner Mederic visited the patients regularly and he ensured they complied with all the health requirements such as undertaking a compulsory COVID-19 test and fit to travel test which they took before the trip back home which showed the necessity for a diplomatic mission at a time when these foreign based consuls’ work and value are under scrutiny.
Air Seychelles deployed this special flight on Saturday afternoon where 25 other patients and seven chaperons were leaving for treatment in Sri Lanka after being denied entry to India to follow their much needed specialised treatment and this forced the local health department to renegotiate with Hemas hospital, who agreed to accommodate our patients.
The long awaited flight for the returning patients had attracted plenty of interest from family members who were on the outskirts of our airport, some even for two hours before the aircraft touched the tarmac.
Nevertheless it was a tedious and long procedure before the returning patients were all loaded into ten different coasters which were stationed on the runway while their luggage were transported by the army trucks and left almost two hours after they had arrived and it appears the authorities decided to change route as the army trucks came out of the normal exit gate but this looked like a decoy as the patients were redirected where their coasters, with heavy police escort, exited the airport through the gates at Skychef to avoid the crowd of well-wishers, mostly family members, who were hoping to have a glimpse of their beloved ones who had been stranded abroad for many months and to welcome them back home.
Despite the change in route, some family members managed to catch hold of the convoy as they lined up the highway to greet their loved ones with the help of the very understanding coaster drivers who slowed down a bit, albeit very briefly, before the convoy sped off to their final destination at the Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay hotel and the Perseverance hospital where they will serve their mandatory fourteen-day quarantine before they are released to be reunited with their family after an adventurous and testing time in difficult circumstances without precedence in our history brought upon our people by the coronavirus pandemic.