With their families separated, jobs at stake and businesses suffering losses, Oman’s expatriates who are stranded back home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions have been appealing for help to return to the sultanate. In desperation and at their wits’ end, they hope the authorities lift the entry restrictions for residents, especially those who are fully vaccinated.
The Supreme Committee tasked with tackling the impact of COVID-19 and the Civil Aviation Authority has extended the suspension of entry to the sultanate until further notice for arrivals from Sudan, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, India, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Libya, Argentina, Colombia and passengers from any other country if they have passed through any of those mentioned during the 14 days preceding their request to enter Oman.
Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are exempt from the ban and are subject to entry procedures adopted by the sultanate.
Two days before India was included in the travel ban list in April, Madhusri Das flew out with her younger son to be with her elder son when he had to vacate his college hostel owing to the pandemic. Close to four months later, she’s still stranded out of the country and eagerly awaiting an announcement allowing passengers from India. The long separation and worry about her husband has taken a toll on her health.
“I have got both doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is approved in Oman. In fact, I managed to bring forward the date for my second dose in anticipation of the travel ban being lifted. But I’m still awaiting the announcement.”
Her younger son, a Grade 8 student of Indian School Muscat, continues to attend classes online and misses home. “It’s too long a time to be away from home,” she said.
Tanzanian resident M Hashim’s family too has been split between Oman and Tanzania due to the travel restrictions. His wife travelled home to visit her mother. Just a few days later, the ban was imposed.
“Our two children are missing her. It has become very challenging for me to handle everything all by myself. The wait has been too long,” Hashim said.
Another Muscat resident, Adnan Rasool is stuck in Pakistan. He runs a travel ticketing office and had flown there to see his parents. “I have been stuck in Pakistan for the last three months. I hope the news comes soon but I am struggling to keep my spirits high. If I don’t fly back soon, my business will collapse,” Rasool said.
Many other residents who had travelled out of Oman some months ago are worried about crossing the six-month period out of the country and their visas automatically becoming invalid.
“I fear my visa will expire. We heard that we can renew visas online, but then we came to know that it can’t be done. There’s confusion over how to go about it. I really must return to Oman at the earliest,” said B Mohammad from Bangladesh.
Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are among the GCC states that have allowed fully vaccinated passengers to enter. On July 30, Qatar announced lifting regulations for expatriates flying from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
With direct entry banned from the countries on the travel restriction list, some expatriates considered alternate routes to Oman, choosing to fly through third countries. But few of these have actually opted for such routes owing to the very high expenses.
Faiyaz Khan, general manager for Travel Point, said, “Bookings and enquiries have fallen because people are not willing to spend so much money – it costs over RO500 to come back via Qatar, and that’s excluding flight tickets. Everyone is eagerly waiting for direct flights to resume.”
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