Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, on Thursday said 353,468 Keralites settled in 201 countries had registered on Norka-Roots portal to return, as and when the lockdown was lifted and airports opened.

A majority of this is from Middle East countries. It includes 153,660 from the UAE, Saudi Arabia (47,268), the UK (2,112), the US (1,895) and Ukraine (1,864).

"We have decided to present the final list of prospective returnees to the Centre and also to the respective Indian embassies to make adequate travel arrangements," said Vijayan.

Vijayan said 94,483 Keralites staying in other states had also registered to return.

It included 30,570 from Karnataka, 29,181 from Tamil Nadu and 13,113 from Maharashtra.

Students, pregnant women and senior citizens would get the priority.

The registration has to be done on of the state-run Norka-Roots, the official body of diaspora.

The facility was launched by the Kerala government, after the Centre, following requests from several quarters decided to take a positive step.

Of an estimated 2.5mn non-resident Keralites (NRKs), 90% are in the Middle East countries.

Around 300,000-500,000 people are likely to return after the resumption of air services.

Vijayan added that two more persons had Thursday tested positive for novel coronavirus in the state, taking the total number of people presently undergoing treatment to 111.

With wearing of mask becoming compulsory from Thursday, for the first time the chief minister was seen covering his face with a towel when he arrived for the press meet.

In total, Kerala has reported 497 Covid-19 cases so far.

"A total of 20,285 people are under observation at their homes while 426 others have been kept under observation at different hospitals across the state," Vijayan said.

Six districts — Kannur, Kozhikode, Kasargode, Malappuram, Kottayam and Idukki — are in the red zone.

All the remaining eight districts are under orange zone.

" Thursday, 954 cases were registered against those who were found not wearing masks, which has been made compulsory. In Kasargode, district collector Sajith Babu and two IG of police, Asok Yadav and Vijay Sakhare, are under isolation. There are 70 hot spots in the state. Kannur presently has the highest number of positive cases at 47," Vijayan said.

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