The number of Indians in the middle class, or those earning between $10 and $20 a day, shrunk by about 32 million, compared with the number that could have been reached in the absence of a pandemic, the Pew Research Centre said.
"It is not just a mission that brought back stranded and distressed citizens from around the world, but Vande Bharat has been a mission of hope and happiness, of letting people know that they will not be left behind even in the most testing times," Puri said.
The latest phase of these repatriation flights, known as the "Vande Bharat Mission," began on March 1 and will last till March 28. Slightly more than 1,350 international flights are scheduled to be operated from 28 countries in this phase, enabling an estimated 260,000 Indians to travel home.
India, which has reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world after the United States, has so far vaccinated more than 12 million health and front-line workers.
Some regions in India have already reimposed containment measures, including lockdowns and restaurant closures, and more are being considered.
The tally of confirmed infections is 10.96 million, the second highest after the United States, with more than 156,000 deaths. But actual infections could range as high as 300 million, a government serological survey showed this month.
India suspended all incoming and outgoing international flights as well as domestic air travel in the last week of March 2020 as part of a lockdown to combat COVID-19. Flights to and from India have since been resumed in a phased manner with about two-dozen countries under "air bubbles."
From coming Monday people over 60 and those over 45 with multiple medical conditions can be vaccinated against coronavirus for free at 10,000 government hospitals and nearly 20,000 private clinics for a charge.
"There is need to maintain surveillance, containment and caution so as to fully overcome the pandemic. States and Union Territories have also been advised to speed up the vaccination of the target population so as to break the chain of transmission and overcome the pandemic..."