Mega evacuation of Indians abroad begins Thursday; US passengers to pay Rs 1 lakh
Around 15,000 stranded Indians are expected to be flown back to India in 64 flights in the first week of the government's mammoth exercise to evacuate stranded Indians from abroad, union civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri said Tuesday.
The passengers will be charged for the flights, said Puri, adding it is a commercial service being carried out under "special circumstances". The minister said the exchequer does not have the space to pay for repatriation of more than 2,00,000 estimated stranded Indians.
Some of the fares (one way) from the Gulf countries such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha to Kochi, Kerala range from Rs 15,000 to Rs 16,000. Rescue flights from London to India will cost Rs 50,000 while flights from the United States to India have been priced at Rs 1,00,000.
"If there was no charge, people wanting to come back would be much higher," said the minister.
The first phase of the evacuation will begin from May 7 to May 13, evacuating Indians from 12 countries: the UEA, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Bangladesh, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom and the United States, according to the first week's flight plan reviewed by Hindustan Times.
India will be evacuating 2,100 citizens from the United States and 2,000 from the UAE in the first week.
For now, only Air India flights - 40 from the national carrier and 24 from its subsidiary Air India express - will be deployed.
"We will consider involving private airlines as well going forward," Puri said.
The government on Monday announced it will begin repatriating Indians stranded around the world because of the Covid-19 crisis in phases from May 7 as a sign of relief for hundreds of thousands of Indian's stranded abroad since India shut both domestic and international flight operations due to Covid-19.
Swati Arora, 32, a Gurugram-based housewife, said her husband has been stranded in Kuala Lumpur Since February. She is due to deliver her baby by May end and has been requesting authorities for over a month seeking relief.
"My husband had gone for a work trip and his business Visa which was issued for 28 days had expired on March 20. We have been constantly requesting the MEA and the embassy but got no response. We have also been tweeting about it tirelessly. I want my husband to be back in time for the delivery. The embassy has contacted him and a group of others stranded there informing that they will have to pay for their tickets and also quarantine facilities," she said.
According to Puri, the requests received by the Indian embassies are increasing by the day and expected to go much higher than the initial estimate.
"Initially, we had estimated 190,000-200,000 stranded Indians wishing to come back. As the MEA and state governments considered the number, many more expressed an interest to travel. A comprehensive plan has been drawn out only for those of our citizens who are in foreign countries and who are stranded either because their visas have expired or they are being deported or they went to these countries just before the lockdown for work and need to get back," Puri said.
"We are looking at a possible second wave of infections and we need to take the screening and quarantine process very seriously," he added.
A standard operating protocol (SOP) has been prepared for the repatriation, the government has said. Upon arrival passengers will have to fill a self-declaration form.
Medical screening of passengers would be done before they take the flight and 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 their destination in India, travellers will have to register on the Aarogya Setu app and undergo another medical screening.
After scrutiny, they will be quarantined for 14 days, either in a hospital or in an institutional quarantine on payment-basis, by the concerned state government.
"All the necessary protocols, including thermal screening, social distancing, etc, will have to be followed. State governments have to assure us that they have the necessary infrastructure to handle the passengers coming in. They will have to have adequate quarantine facilities including provisions for paid quarantine," Puri said.
India has suspended its domestic and International passenger flights till May 17, there is no clear indication yet from the government on when they may resume.
"Decision on domestic and international flight operations still remain to be taken. The services will continue to remain suspended. We will have to do it in a graded manner initially. It is not possible to open the skies at once. We will have to work out a plan by watching the behaviour of the virus and our capacity to deal with operations on ground," he said.
The government has also kept at least a dozen Indian Navy ships and around 30 Indian Air Force aircraft on standby for the mammoth rescue operation as the Centre expects the numbers to increase.
Among the key routes proposed in the first week, 15 flights from seven countries are expected to ferry more than 3,150 passengers to Kerala. At least 150,000 Indians have registered to return with the Indian missions in the UAE alone, with almost a quarter of them citing job losses as the reason for returning home.
Eleven flights are scheduled for Delhi with more than 3,100 passengers, 11 for Tamil Nadu with nearly 2150 passengers. Flights are also scheduled for states, say, Maharashtra, Telangana, Gujarat, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.
(Inputs and image from hindustantimes.com)
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