India prepares to airlift expats home from May 7
The Government of India has taken the first steps towards the large-scale evacuation required to bring home the millions of Indians stranded abroad.
For the first time since banning all commercial international travel in late March, the Indian government will be sending out 64 plans to repatriate Indians stranded in at least 12 countries due to the coronavirus pandemic. This first week alone over 15,000 Indians are expected to return by air and sea from the six Gulf countries, Bangladesh, Philippines, UK, US, Singapore, Maldives and Malaysia.
The embassies in each of these countries have been registering those who are looking to travel back and priority is being given to “compelling cases in distress, including migrant workers/ labourers who have been laid off, short term visa holders faced with the expiry of visas, persons with medical emergency/ pregnant women/ elderly, those required to return to India due to death of a family member, and students”. In the consulate in Dubai alone, over 200,000 have registered to come home.
More than half of these flights will be sent to the Middle East which hosts millions on expatriates from India. With the cost of the return flight to be born by the evacuees, it is expected that those who can’t afford the fare would be repatriated by sea. The Indian Navy is also dispatching two other amphibious warships to Male in the Maldives to rescue over 1,000 Indians stranded there. Even in countries that are not yet on the list, embassies have started accepting registrations for the airlift.
These flights, all operated by Air India, will be landing in 10 states across the country, with the majority of them in Delhi, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. There will be strict protocols followed to minimise the risk of infections both during and after the trip. The flights will be manned by only those crew members who have been tested negative for COVID-19. The crew that are operating flights to destinations in the US and who would be required to stay the night will be put up in secure accommodations.
All passengers will be required to give an undertaking that they are making the journey at their own risk. While it appears that the flights will be operated at full capacity, eschewing physical distancing norms, thermal screenings will be conducted both at the start and the end of the trip. Only asymptomatic travellers would be allowed to board. Onboard the flight, strict protocols issued by the government will be followed by everyone including wearing of masks, environment and hand hygiene etc.
Passengers showing symptoms upon return will be taken immediately to medical facilities while others would be taken to various institutional quarantine facilities for a period of 14 days. They will be allowed to go home after testing negative and after paying for these medical costs and facilities. All passengers will be required to download the Arogya Setu app and self-isolate for 14 more days as per protocol.