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Kerala News
COVID-19: Repatriation of Indian nationals from the UK and UAE to start from Thursday
 
London/Dubai: Thousands of stranded Indians in countries like the UK, the UAE and the US due to the coronavirus-induced travel restrictions would be brought back by special flights and the Indian missions abroad were gearing up for the massive operation. India imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country, grounding all international flights since mid-March. Under the repatriation plan, the government will be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner. Air India will operate 64 flights from May 7 to May 13 to bring back around 15,000 Indian nationals stranded abroad amid the COVID-19 lockdown, it was announced in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Around seven special Air India flights are being scheduled from London Heathrow Airport to Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Bengaluru starting on Thursday, Indian High Commission said in London. According to officials, the more vulnerable cases will be given priority for booking on to these flights, to be paid for by the passengers, who will also have to sign an undertaking to go into a 14-day quarantine on arrival in India. "This news will come as a big relief to Indians who find themselves stranded in the UK and have been desperate to return," said Ruchi Ghanashyam, the outgoing Indian High Commissioner to the UK.

The Indian government announced plans to facilitate the return of Indians stranded abroad on “compelling grounds” in a phased manner on Monday. For the UK, Air India will start by operating non-scheduled commercial flights from London between Thursday and next Tuesday. It will start with flights from London Heathrow to Mumbai, followed by flights to Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Chennai and New Delhi. “Due to limited number of these flights, priority will be given to carry people who are in the most vulnerable categories such as elderly people, pregnant women, people facing medical emergencies, people who have bereavements or serious illnesses in their families in India, stranded tourists etc,” the Indian mission in London said.

Medical screening of passengers would be done before taking the flight. Only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel, it said. Over 200,000 expatriates in the UAE have registered so far to travel back to India. The first two special flights that will operate from Thursday to evacuate Indians stranded in the UAE due to the coronavirus pandemic will begin with applicants from Kerala, who formed the majority of the expatriates who have registered to be repatriated from here, Indian Ambassador to the UAE, Pavan Kapoor said. "The missions have prioritised the list of passengers and have given it to Air India. We would call and email each passenger to contact Air India to get their tickets issued.

The first two flights on Thursday would be to Kerala, considering the high number of applicants from the state,” Kapoor was quoted as saying by the Gulf News. He said the priority list includes blue collar workers in distress, people with medical emergencies, including the elderly and pregnant women, and those who have lost jobs, the report added. The passenger list for the two flights -- Abu Dhabi to Kochi and Dubai to Kozhikode -- will be finalised by the Embassy of India, Abu Dhabi, and the Consulate General of India, Dubai, the Indian Consulate in Dubai announced on Monday. The list will be made on the basis of registrations in the Embassy or Consulate database which was launched for this purpose a few days back, it added. In Kochi, a defence ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday that a naval ship has been sent to Dubai. The INS Shardul was diverted to Dubai to evacuate the expatriates and it will return to Kochi, he said. The special evacuation flights for thousands of Indians stranded in the US are most likely to begin this week from San Francisco and other cities, according to officials.

While no exact dates have been announced yet, the flights could take off from San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Washington DC, the officials said. Given that a large number of Indian students and visitors are stranded in the US because of the strict travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, more flights are likely to be scheduled in the coming weeks. Community leaders have welcomed the move of the Indian government which on Monday announced that special flights facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds would begin in a phased manner from May 7. The Indian embassy and its consulates in the US last week started preparing a list of Indians planning to travel back home. The list is being prepared through an online registration form.

A note on the mission''s website makes it clear that the government will be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner. Medical screening of passengers would be done before boarding the flight and only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel, it says. All passengers on arrival in India would be medically screened and would have to register on Arogya Setu app. The cost of travel from designated airport in the USA to the designated airport in India will be borne by the passenger, according to the note.


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