Most of these special flights will be operated by Air India. (File)
- Indians stranded abroad due to COVID will be brought back by air, sea
- Naval warships will set out for Indians stuck in West Asia, Maldives
- This is the biggest evacuation exercise since the first Gulf War
Hundreds of thousands of Indians stranded abroad because of the coronavirus crisis will be brought back by air and by sea from Thursday in the world's largest evacuation mission. More than 3 lakh Indians have requested a flight home. Those taking the special flights will be charged around Rs 50,000 from Europe and Rs 1 lakh from the US. Naval warships will also set out for Indians stuck in West Asia and the Maldives. This is the biggest exercise since national airline Air India flew back 1,70,000 during the first Gulf War.
Here are 10 developments in this big story:
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Over 14,800 Indians in 13 countries will be brought back by 64 flights in the first week, says the foreign ministry. "We will be bringing back only Indian citizens, no OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card holders," say sources.
On the first day of evacuation on May 7, 10 flights will bring back 2,300 Indians stranded because of airspace closures by various countries to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Over the next few days, the government will operate 10 flights to the UAE, seven each to the US and UK, five flights to Saudi Arabia, five flights to Singapore and two flights to Qatar. There will also be flights to Malaysia, Bangladesh, five flights each to Kuwait and Philippines and two flights each to Oman and Bahrain.
Each flight will have between 200 and 300 passengers to ensure social distancing. Before boarding the special flights, the passengers need to declare whether they have fever, cough, diabetes or any respiratory disease.
Indians with valid visas will be allowed to fly out on the same special flights bringing citizens back, provided they are permitted into their destination country.
All passengers will be screened and only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel, the government says. On arrival, they will be quarantined for 14 days, says the home ministry.
The three ships deployed by the Navy are INS Shardul, INS Magar and INS Jalashwa. The Indian Air Force has prepared about 30 aircraft, including Boeing Co.'s C-17 Globemaster and Lockheed Martin Corp.'s C-130J Super Hercules, for the mission.
India banned all flights in late March as it imposed one of the world's strictest lockdowns to check COVID-19, leaving thousands of workers and students stranded. Till now, the government had resisted evacuations, given the logistical and safety nightmare of bringing back and quarantining returning citizens.
Priority will be given to pregnant women, the elderly, people with medical emergencies and ones with bereavement or serious illness in their immediate family, apart from migrant workers who have been laid off, say officials.
India has more than 46,000 coronavirus cases; almost 1,600 have died.