COVID-19: India set for biggest repatriation of its national from abroad

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In the biggest exercise of its kind anywhere in the world, India is set to begin repatriation of the countrymen stranded abroad due to coronavirus pandemic from Thursday (May 7) in a phased manner on non-schedule flights and naval ships.

While three naval ships have already let for Maldives and UAE, schedule for operating 64 flights to various destinations in the first phase has been drawn up. According to the schedule, these flights will be operated to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Trichy, Kozhikode, Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram, Hyderabad and Kochi with 14,770 Indian nationals, beginning May 7 (Thursday).

Altogether, seven flights carrying around 1,900 stranded Indian nationals from London, Singapore, and San Francisco will land at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) between Thursday and Sunday.

The final destination of the San Francisco flight, carrying around 300 Indian nationals, will be Hyderabad. Both the London and Singapore flights are expected to fly back around 250 Indian nationals each.

The biggest repatriation will be from the Middle East, where 3.42 million Indians live, majority of them from the southern state of Kerala. The operation from Middle East will start with two flights taking off from Dubai and Abu Dhabi on Thursday. The flights will land at Kozhikode and Kochi in Kerala.

However, several states have questioned the selection of people done by the central government in consultation with Indian embassies and consulates abroad. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the Centre has allowed only half the number of people selected by the state as per the priority.

He said that the Centre had only allowed 80,000 Keralites to come back as against 1.69 lakh persons identified by the state government. The chief minister said that the state had accorded priority to Keralites who have lost job, pregnant woman, children separated from their parents, prisoners released from jails, people with expired visit visa and students who have completed their course.

However, he said that a total 4.42 lakh Keralites had registered with the government website for returning to the state. A total of 2,250 Keralites have found place in the list of evacuees to be brought back in the first phase.

States and NRI organisations have also expressed surprise over the Centre’s decision to charge fare from the stranded Indians. Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said on Tuesday that the xchequer does not have the space to pay for repatriation.

According to him, close to 2 lakh Indians have requested the government to help them come back. Fifteen-hour flights from the US will cost Rs 1 lakh, while flights form the UK will cost Rs 50,000 per passenger. The fare from Dubai to Kochi is Rs.13, 000.

The NRI organisations pointed out that majority of the expatriates in the Middle East may not be able to afford the airfare since they have been languishing without job and wages.

Meanwhile, all passengers will be subjected for medical screening before taking the flight. Only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel. During the journey, all these passengers would have to follow the protocols, such as the health protocols, issued by the ministry of health and the ministry of civil aviation.

On reaching India, they will have to register on the Arogya Setu app. “Everyone would be medically screened. After scrutiny, they would be quarantined for 14 days, either in a hospital or in an institutional quarantine on payment-basis, by the concerned state government.

COVID test would be done after 14 days and further action would be taken according to health protocols,” it added. State governments are being asked to make arrangements, including for testing, quarantine and onward movement of the returning Indians (with inputs from media reports).

Image Credit: DW

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