Kerala’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been lauded across the nation and even the world, so it might not come as a surprise that tourists stuck in Kerala don’t want to leave.
74-year-old US citizen, Johnny Paul Pierce came to Kerala on 26th February 2020, marking his fifth visit to India.
A nationwide lockdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic meant that he would have to stay in Kerala for much longer than he originally intended to.
Johnny Paul Pierce has been staying at a hotel in Ernakulam for the past 5 months and now, he doesn’t have the heart to leave Kerala and wants to spend the rest of his life in God’s own country.
“I’m a hermit, so I’ve enjoyed the lockdown,” Paul said.
He Wants To Start A Business
Pierce took to Kerala High Court to extend his stay in the country. He is currently on a tourist visa that expires on 24th August 2020.
“My aspiration is to show a viable business model and get a five-year business visa. The easiest way to become a resident is to marry an Indian, but I am 74 and probably past that option,” he said.
Since his visa will soon expire, he wants to convert his tourist visa to a business visa and thus be eligible to open a rejuvenation centre for foreign tourists which would help facilitate tourism in Kerala. He hopes to hire retired US citizens like himself who could stay in India for a long time.
However, for such a conversion to happen, he must leave the country and go back to the US before he can return to Kerala.
Pierce is unhappy with such an arrangement citing the fact that the situation in the US is dire whilst Kerala has managed the coronavirus crisis effectively.
“Since he is a regular visitor to Kerala and is also a senior citizen, we have asked that our plea be considered on a humanitarian basis,” said his lawyer Saju S. Nair.
The US Is In Chaos
It is not difficult to understand Pierce’s hesitation to return to his home country.
The US has reported the highest coronavirus death toll in the world, with the virus not seeming to slow down any time soon. At-risk groups of people are dying at a rapid rate, with an overwhelmed healthcare system unable to cope with the pandemic.
On top of that, 74-year-old Pierce is at increased risk due to his age. According to him, going back to the US at his age is not a good option.
“It’s risky to travel to the US at the age of 74. It is chaos there. And I love Kerala. I don’t want to go back and I would like to live here peacefully,” said Pierce.
He’s Not The Only One Asking For An Extension
Terry John Converse, an American theatre professor was also stranded in Kerala in the aftermath of the lockdown. He too approached the High Court seeking a six-month extension to his visa.
Tourists of other nationalities have also expressed their admiration for Kerala’s excellent handling of the pandemic.
Kerala has one of the lowest mortality rates (0.46%) amongst all Indian states. Kerala achieved this by taking aggressive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in addition to having a strong public healthcare infrastructure.
While we can’t blame Pierce for wanting to stick around in Kerala, whether his plea will be granted remains to be seen. In the meantime, Pierce will have to pass his time inside like the rest of us.
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