The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh's (CAAB) latest decision to put Oman as one of 12 "high risk" countries has left hundreds of expatriates in the Gulf country waiting to come home on Eid vacation in trouble.
Bangladeshi community leaders demanded withdrawal of the decision as due to it expatriates will not be allowed to enter Bangladesh from Oman.
According to them, Oman in no way can be put as a "high risk" country. Over the past few days, although infection rate has increased slightly there, it was not out of control unlike other countries in the list.
Besides, at present Oman is not in the list of "high risk countries" of any other country.
After the new directive, two Dhaka-bound flights scheduled on April 30 night from Oman's Muscat International Airport were cancelled. About 200 passengers suffered immensely for that. They weren't aware of the CAAB directive, which came barely few hours before their journey to the airport.
CAAB allowed some international flights to operate conditionally from Saturday. However, special conditions have been imposed for travelling to 38 countries identified as "highly risky" and "risky".
As per the CAAB notice, in group 'A' or "high risk" countries, Oman is the only country from six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations and one of two Middle East countries, after Iran. As per it, passengers will not be allowed to enter Bangladesh from Oman, on direct or transit flight.
Bangladeshi expatriates or Bangladeshis who in the last 15 days were on visit to any of the 12 countries including Oman will be able to return to Bangladesh upon special permission from related government authorities, and have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine in government-approved hotels at their own expenditure.
Expatriates from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates -- which are in category 'C' -- as well as from three other GCC countries -- Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain -- which are in the list of 'risky' countries -- have not been barred from entering Bangladesh.
According to latest data of Worldometer, so far 1,95,807 persons have been infected with coronavirus in Oman. Of them, 2,043 died, and 1,76,833 recovered. Although infection rate increased during the second wave, it is not alarming and prevalence of new variant is not significant either.
President of Bangladesh Social Club Sirajul Haque said, "Corona situation in Oman is under control. Offices and business outlets remain open maintaining health guidelines. 'Lockdown' remains effective from 9pm to 4am only. It is not understandable on what basis Oman has been put as a 'high risk' country."
It was learnt there were 38 passengers for Saturday night's Dhaka-bound suspended Oman Air flight and another 142 passengers in a Salam Air flight. All of them were returning home on Eid vacation.
Shihab Uddin of Cumilla, who was a passenger of Salam Air, said, "I reached airport three hours earlier and booked a hotel spending 75 Rial for three days. While waiting in the boarding queue around 10:30pm, we were informed that the flight was suspended. Airline staffer informed that we don't have permission to enter Bangladesh."
Md Masud of Chattogram said, "Amid pandemic, I saved money, purchased a ticket spending 200 Rial, underwent corona test and arranged quarantine at hotel. I would have returned home after two years. I don't know what's our fault."
Due to flight suspension, although passengers from the city could return to their residences, others who were from distant areas had to spend night at the airport.
President of Oman Bangabandhu Parishad Mohammad Shahabuddin said, "We demand steps from the foreign ministry and expatriates' welfare ministry to revoke such imaginary decision."
President of Chattogram Samiti in Oman, Yasin Chowdhury, echoed him.
On April 24, Oman imposed travel ban for Bangladesh along with India and Pakistan. Now, as both the countries have banned entry of Bangladeshis, Bangladesh Biman's flights to the country have been suspended till May 15, said sources at its Oman office.
US-Bangla Airlines also suspended its special flights on Muscat route.
The writer is a freelance journalist.