Escape from Goa
Bob and Linda Skinner live in Sedlescombe but spend the winter months regularly in Goa. Linda returned at the end of February as scheduled. Bob was due to fly back on 24th March.
I heard from Air India that my pre-booked flight was cancelled. Then everything stopped. No flights, no trains, no buses, no cars. Goa was locked down, not because there was any Covid-19 outbreak there (one single case had been identified at that point and I’m not aware of more subsequently), but with the aim of stopping anyone from outside coming in to infect us. The authorities even barred commercial traffic for a few days, until they realised that the population needed food and other vital supplies.
Both locals and tourists were told to stay indoors apart from shopping for food and medications. My normal mode of transport there is a bike, so I was fine – in fact my life wasn’t much different from normal, except that almost everyone out in the street was wearing a mask or bandanna. There seemed to be an unlimited supply of masks at local pharmacies – properly manufactured, not home-made. That may be (I was told) because, at an early stage, the state government arranged for prisoners to start making them; they also got the navy to fly in extra supplies of masks to equip the police on the streets.
There was no general hostility to foreign tourists in the town: Goan locals appreciate that their economy depends upon them. And I’m well-known in the local area from many years of regular residence, and feel almost as at home there as I do in Sussex – it was only concern for Linda that made me feel I should get back as soon as I could. But I did feel sympathy for tourists who had come out for a fortnight’s holiday and found themselves trapped and stranded, with some hoteliers clearly reluctant to go on providing for them without being sure of payment.
And I feel that the British government’s failure to give them help for the first three weeks of lockdown was really shameful. Israel chartered a plane straightaway to get its citizens out. Even Finn Air provided an evacuation back to Helsinki. Germany did a deal with Air India and flew several 777 plane-loads home – mostly free, I believe. Indeed they had spare capacity on some flights and offered passage to other nationals. I didn’t take this up, as I had no desire to find myself locked down in Germany on arrival.
The British response was to get us all registered online on a database in Delhi, then around four weeks later to arrange airlifts home with a charter group, Titan Airways, that generally fly troops about. They announced that they had three planes flying out of Goa on 8th, 10th and 12th of April. A friend and I managed to get places on the first of those. They charged £681 – more than double the price I would usually pay – for a ten-hour flight on a plastic seat with no food or drink other than some crisps, a kit-kat, some cheese and biscuits, and three bottles of water each.
I was advised that, on my return, I should self-isolate for a fortnight – even from Linda. And that’s what we’re doing right now, having divided up our house and garden between us. I look forward to some limited liberation shortly.
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