COVID-19: India plans 64 flights to evacuate 14,800 people from 12 countries in 7 days
In all 64 flights with a capacity to fly 200 to 250 people will be operated from May 7 till 13 to bring in Indians stranded abroad due to COVID-19, an exclusive document in possession with The Lede reveals.
According to the document prepared by the Ministry of External Affairs Covid 19 Cell, in all 14,800 will be brought back in the first week.
The document reveals that there would be 15 flights operated to Kerala, 11 to Tamil Nadu, seven to Telangana, and three to Karnataka during the first week.
On Monday, India had said that it will be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner.
“The travel would be arranged by aircraft and naval ships. The Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) has been prepared in this regard,” the Indian government had said.
Quoting a defence official, Press Trust of India had reported on Tuesday that India has sent three naval ships to evacuate its citizens stranded in the Maldives and UAE due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“INS Jalashwa deployed off Mumbai coast, along with INS Magar, diverted for the Maldives on Monday night,” the defence official said adding that INS Shardul has been diverted to Dubai to evacuate the Indians.
“The three ships will return to Kochi,” the report added.
INS Magar and INS Shardul are Southern Naval Command ships, while INS Jalashwa is from Eastern Naval Command.
According to MEA, the Indian Embassies and High Commissions are preparing a list of distressed Indian citizens.
However, the Indian government has said that repatriation would be made available on payment basis.
Rs50,000 for London-Delhi flight
According to Press Trust of India (PTI), passengers should pay Rs 50,000 for London-Delhi flight and Rs 12,000 for Dhaka-Delhi flight.
“Non-scheduled commercial flights would be arranged for air travel. The travel would begin in a phased manner from May 7,” the government note says.
“Medical screening of passengers would be done before taking the flight and only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel,” the note added.
And 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 the destination, everyone would have to register on the Aarogya 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 state governments.
COVID-19 test would be done after 14 days and further action would be taken according to health protocols.
The Ministries of External Affairs and Civil Aviation would soon share detailed information about it through their websites.
State governments are being advised to make arrangements, including for testing, quarantine, and onward movement of the returning Indians in their respective states.
In Kerala, more than four lakh Keralites stranded in other states or outside the country have registered themselves on the online portal of the Non-Resident Keralites Association (NORKA) expressing their willingness to return from abroad.
According to NORKA CEO Harikrishnan Namboothiri, out of the NRI Keralites who have registered themselves, over 61,000 lost their jobs while nearly 10,000 are pregnant women.
Meanwhile, Indians in the Arab Gulf, mainly those who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 lockdown and economic downturn, are disappointed with airfare which the Indian government is going to ask for repatriation.
“We are in distress. We are jobless. We want to go back and our government is asking money,” Roy Mathew, an Indian worker, in Dubai said.
The Indian government’s repatriation notice says that those who want to return have to pay for airfare. However, how much the pay will be is yet not clear.
Sudeesh Kumar (name changed), an Indian who has registered to return to India with the Indian embassy, said that he leaving Oman with empty hands.
“I was working and staying here with family. I am one of the workers who lost the job in the mass lay off in the automobile industry. There is no saving. And now the government is asking us to pay for the airfare. This is not what we expected our government,” he added.
Don't Charge Blue Collar Workers
Meanwhile, after an interaction with the Non-Resident Indians in the Arab Gulf, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, an MP from Kerala and former junior minister at External Affairs, said in a series of tweets today that one major wish is that Kerala must bring back all registered ''Pravasis'' as soon as possible so that before the rains start in early June and viruses spread, Kerala can be back to normal.
"Otherwise we will face a health and economic disaster," his tweet read.
He urged Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to speak with the central government and get Air India, local airlines and naval ships to offer many services daily to finish repatriation in the next 20 days.
"They should not charge poor blue-collar workers, many of whom have not been paid for a month, for this either," Tharoor said.
"It was bad enough that poor migrant workers within India were charged to return home when they didn’t even have money to eat. Doing the same to poor Pravasis whose remittances kept our economy afloat in hard times would add insult to injury. Yet that’s what the government intends to do," he said.
Tharoor also said it was wrong to restrict repatriation only to essential or emergency cases.
"Let everyone who needs to come back for whatever reason do so. Returning home is a human right for any Indian citizen. Other democracies have accepted this principle in evacuating their nationals," the former minister of state for external affairs said.
If in initial flights, priorities have to be observed, Pravasi representatives have asked for people with mental and physical disabilities to be included in high priority lists, Tharoor said.
Also, insisting on COVID-free certification is neither practical nor necessary since arrivals must be isolated anyway, he said.
"For the indigent, if the state government can pay 50 percent of the fare, there are Non-Resident Keralite volunteer organizations like OICC/INCAS & KMCC who can cover the remaining 50 percent. If the Centre refuses to waive charges, the state government should use this method of covering 50 percent of the ticket fare + seek donations," he tweeted.
Tharoor, in his tweets, also raised the issue of pregnant women with tickets to travel home in March for delivery in May/June are disallowed on commercial flights with late-stage pregnancy.
NRIs have appealed to the central government to arrange a special "medical flight" for pregnant women who cannot afford to deliver abroad, he added.