British nationals wearing facemasks queue to board a special flight to London at Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport in Amritsar on Tuesday. AFP
Flights will take off on Thursday from 12 countries where Indians are stranded in the Covid 19 pandemic situation, as the Narendra Modi-led government moves to bring back around 14,800 nationals stranded abroad.
The government would operate 64 special flights to repatriate Indians from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman in the Arabian Gulf and Britain, the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Bangladesh.
Three naval ships have been sent to evacuate Indians stranded in Maldives and UAE.
These ships will return to the southern port city of Kochi in Kerala.
NS Jalashwa, deployed off Mumbai coast, along with INS Magar, diverted for Maldives on Monday night, the Navy said. INS Shardul has been diverted to Dubai to evacuate expatriates.
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, officials at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.
The flights could take off from San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Washington DC, with exact dates yet to finalised, they said.
According to an MEA flight plan, 64 flights will be sent to a dozen countries to repatriate students and blue-collar workers among others from abroad.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said the flights are: UAE -10 flights, Qatar - 2, Saudi Arabia - 5, UK- 7, Singapore - 5, United States -7, Philippines - 5, Bangladesh - 7, Bahrain - 2, Malaysia -7, Kuwait -5, and Oman- 2.
Fifteen flights will be dedicated to natives of Kerala, 11 each for those from Delhi-NCR and Tamil Nadu, seven each for Maharashtra and Telangana, five for Gujarat, three each for Jammu and Kashmir and Karnataka and one each for Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
Blue-collar workers, including those who have lost jobs in the Gulf because of the pandemic crisis - such as UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia - will be repatriated first, followed by students and Indians.
Air India and its low cost subsidiary Air India Express would operate these special flights from May 7 to 13.
The government is expected to run more repatriation flights after May 13.
That might include 10 flights to the UAE, seven flights each to the US and the UK, five to Saudi Arabia, five to Singapore and two flights to Qatar.
It is also likely to conduct seven flights each to Malaysia and Bangladesh, five each to Kuwait and Philippines, two each to Oman and Bahrain, officials said.
The Civil Aviation Ministry said the government has decided to operate two special flights from Doha to India.
The first one will be from Doha to Kochi on May 7, and the second will be from Doha to Thiruvananthapuram on May 10.
On Monday the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the repatriation will be a paid service.
According to an estimate, the number of Indian nationals stranded abroad could be in lakhs.
In a statement, the MHA on Monday said only people showing no symptoms of Covid-19 will be allowed to travel.
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.
"This facility would be made available on payment-basis. Non-scheduled commercial flights would be arranged for air travel." "The government of India will be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner.
The travel would begin from May 7," the statement said.
Medical screening of passengers would be done before taking the flight and only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel, it added.
During the journey, all passengers would have to follow social distancing and hygiene protocols issued by the ministries of Health and Civil Aviation.
"On reaching the destination, everyone would 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," the Home Ministry said.
Their Covid test would be done after 14 days and further action would be taken according to health protocols, it said.
The MEA and Civil Aviation would soon share detailed information about it through their websites.
"The state governments are being advised to make arrangements, including for testing, quarantine and onward movement of the returning Indians in their respective states," it said.
Ambassador Kapoor said on Twitter, “Distressed to learn of this accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the passengers and their families.”
Kerala has made some 13,000 quarantine beds, 8,000 of them in the port city of Kochi, as Air India starts its biggest evacuation since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The travel would be arranged by aircraft and naval ships. The Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) has been prepared in this regard.
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