The Medical Escort mission during Covid-19 outbreak
In this challenging period, where international flights are cancelled or restricted all over the world, Marm Assistance Team has achieved another challenging task by repatriating a patient (US citizen), with a psychiatric condition to his hometown via Istanbul. The patient who was a contractor in a US Air Force Base in Afghanistan was being kept in the base clinic until repatriation where there were limited flights. Additionally, all flights from Schengen countries and the UK were banned by the US recently and Turkey was one of the few countries in the region that still had direct flights to the USA. Initially, the patient’s evacuation from Afghanistan to Istanbul was to be done by air ambulance. And so, the challenging mission has begun.
THE JOURNEY FROM AFGHANISTAN TO ISTANBUL Within this period, Marm Travel Agency had reserved flight tickets for the Istanbul – New York – Salt Lake City route just before two days from the actual flight. However, the difficulties were just beginning; First, the flights to New York were cancelled by Turkish Airlines. So Marm Travel Agency Team had to rearrange new flight as Istanbul – Washington, DC – Salt Lake City. Yet, when we found out that the domestic flight part of the repatriation in the USA was handed over to a third party, due to liability of the flight routes, our mission became “evacuate the patient from Istanbul to Washington, DC”.
NERVOUS WAITING “WILL FLIGHTS BE CANCELED?” When the AA flight took off from Istanbul, heading to Afghanistan in order to pick up the patient, Turkish President announced on TV on 27th of March, that all international flights will be cancelled as of the next day. So, our team, started to check and confirm all the time if the flight TK007, will be cancelled or not. After midnight, the team had to wait until 8:00 am to see if the flight would be cancelled or not. And fortunately, in the morning the flight was still on and the air ambulance was about to land in Istanbul. THE CUSTOMS POLICE IS NOT RELEASING THE PATIENT Our doctor could finally meet the patient at the airport. But there was another problem to be solved. The customs police did not want to release the patient for two specific reasons:
He was coming from a travel banned country (Kazakhstan, where the AA had done refueling)
He had some medical background and therefore required clearance by the medical units of the Airport Health Authority (COVID 19 check).
After an hour of negotiations, our escort doctor managed to get the approval from the police and health authorities to release the patient outside at around 11:30.
IS THIS GOING TO BE A ONE-WAY FLIGHT? Our team took a huge risk when we found out that there was no certainty that the flight from Istanbul to Washington would return with passengers. And there may not be any international flights after that midnight, according to the announcement of the President of Turkey the day before. But Marm Team could not leave the patient alone there, so took the risk for our escort doctor to be stuck in Washington, DC for an uncertain period of time, then decided to go ahead with the mission. The show must go on!
THE EXPERIENCE OF OUR DOCTOR WITH THIS UNUSUAL FLIGHT After about 10 hours of flight, our doctor handed the patient to the American medical professional at the arrivals gate in Dulles International Airport. “The flight was uneventful medically but there were some odd things onboard. All flight attendants wearing masks and latex gloves. All flight magazines were removed. No handout meal menus and the drinks and food offers were limited than usual even for the business class passengers.” says our doctor.
THE JOURNEY FROM WASHINGTON TO QUARANTINE IN TURKEY Fortunately, there was a special flight which the passengers were only accepted with a signed consent form which says the passenger agrees to be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival to Turkey. Moreover, all the passengers had to hand out their national passports to the Turkish Airlines personnel by accepting that the passports will be “handed out” to the health authority upon their arrival to destination. Close to the end of the flight, the plane diverted to Izmir which is located 440 km south of Istanbul to begin the 14 days quarantine protocols. Upon landing, all passengers except the airline crew members were put on 15 buses, and they were transported to Manisa Muradiye Student Dormitory where they will spend their quarantine period for the next 15 days.