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Thousands of stranded Indians will be brought back by Air India, but it won’t be free

Thousands of Stranded Indians

India is deploying 64 repatriation flights and 2 Naval ships to bring back thousands of Indians stranded in several countries across the world due to the coronavirus triggered a lockdown. The operation ‘Vande Bharat’ of massive evaluation of stranded Indians across the globe will begin from Thursday 7th May.

According to the reports, Air India will operate 64 repatriation flights for a week from May 7 while the Navy deployed two ships as India rolled out a massive evacuation plan on Tuesday to bring back thousands of its nationals stranded abroad due to the coronavirus-triggered lockdown.

The operation called ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ will see the state-owned airline operate the non-scheduled commercial flights till May 13 to ferry around 15,000 Indian nationals from the 12 countries.   

Those availing the repatriation flights will be charged, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told a virtual press conference in New Delhi. He said private Indian airlines may join the repatriation effort after May 13. A passenger on a London-Delhi flight will be charged Rs 50,000 and on a Dhaka-Delhi flight Rs 12,000, he added.     

Launching Operation ‘Samudra Setu’ (Sea Bridge), the Indian Navy dispatched two ships to Maldives capital Male to commence the first phase of the evacuation operations from May 8. A total of 1,000 people are planned to be evacuated in the first trip in naval ships ‘INS Jalaswha’ and ‘INS Magar’, a Navy release said. The evacuated people will disembark in Kochi, it added.     

The first AI flight will be from Abu Dhabi in the UAE carrying around 200 passengers with the destination being Kochi in Kerala. As many as ten flights are being operated on the first day from various destinations abroad. The government also issued a standard operating protocol (SOP) for the return of the stranded Indians.   

In an order, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said priority will be given to compelling cases in distress including migrant workers, labourers who have been laid off and those faced with the expiry of short term visas. Persons with a medical emergency, pregnant women, elderly, those required to return to India due to death of a family member and students will also be given preference, the Home Ministry said.    

According to Union government sources, over 3 lakh people in the Gulf countries have registered for the evacuation. The sources also said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will provide a database to states and central ministries for employing skilled workers who are returning after losing jobs in the Gulf.     

According to sources, over 10,000 Indians in the Gulf region were found to have contracted coronavirus while 84 of them have died. The immediate focus of the multi-agency operation christened ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ will be to bring back Indians from the Gulf, countries in the neighbourhood as well as from the US, the UK and Singapore. According to estimates, around 1.4 crore Indians are staying in various parts of the world. 

The 64 AI flights will be landing in ten Indian states – 15 in Kerala, 11 each in Tamil Nadu and Delhi, seven each in Maharashtra and Telangana, five in Gujarat, three each in Karnataka and Jammu and Kashmir and one flight each in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. The flights would be operated by Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express to repatriate Indians from 12 countries – the UAE, the UK, the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, Puri said.     

Out of this, ten flights will be to the UAE, seven flights each to the US and the UK, five flights to Saudi Arabia, five flights to Singapore and two flights to Qatar to repatriate Indian nationals between May 7 and May 13, he added. During this period, seven flights each will be operated to Malaysia and Bangladesh, five flights each to Kuwait and Philippines, two flights each to Oman and Bahrain.      

According to an official statement, only people showing no symptoms of COVID-19 will be allowed to travel and on reaching the destination they would also have to register for  ‘Arogya Setu’ app, a digital contact tracing initiative.     

After arrival in India, their medical examination will be conducted and they will be subsequently put under quarantine for 14 days, either in a hospital or in an institutional facility, also on payment basis, the statement said. COVID-19 test would be done after 14 days and further action would be taken according to health protocols, it said.

Source: India Times    

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