India’s massive air evacuation of people stranded in various countries, due to the unprecedented nationwide lockdown in view of the coronavirus pandemic, appears to be a whole hog with the first couple of flights touching down at airports and many others on their way bringing Indian nationals back home.
An Air India repatriation flight from Singapore landed at the Delhi airport on Friday (May 8) morning with 234 passengers, senior officials of the airline said.
The flight was part of the Vande Bharat mission which started on Thursday to bring back stranded Indian nationals home amid the novel coronavirus-induced lockdown.
In one of the biggest evacuation processes since independence, India has planned to send 64 flights from May 7 to 13 to bring home around 14,800 Indian nationals stranded abroad, along with deploying three ships of the Indian Navy to rescue others stranded in West Asia and the Maldives due to airspace closures.
“The B-787 plane of Air India with 234 passengers landed at the Delhi airport around 11.45 am,” an official of the airline said.
Meanwhile, the first batch of 168 Indian students, stranded in Bangladesh due to the coronavirus-linked global travel restrictions, left for home on Friday on board a special Air India flight, officials said.
The evacuation flight carrying the students from Dhaka will land in Srinagar directly.
The High Commission of India in Bangladesh launched a dedicated link on its website for the registration for Indians wishing to return to India.
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High Commissioner Riva Ganguly Das interacted with the students at the airport as they prepared to complete the formalities to fly back home.
Launching its biggest ever repatriation exercise, India on Thursday (May 7) airlifted 363 of its citizens, including nine infants, stranded in the United Arab Emirates.
While the first Air India Express flight carrying 177 passengers and four infants from Abu Dhabi landed at Kochi at 10.09 pm, the second flight from Dubai carrying same number of passengers and five infants landed at Kozhikode few minutes later at 10.32 pm.
All passengers were asked to download Aarogya Setu app on their mobile devices and submit forms of undertaking, as directed by Government of India, on their arrival at the airport, they said.
The evacuated citizens will be sent to the Institutional Quarantine facilities set up by the district administrations in their respective districts, Kerala government officials said.
Pregnant women, people needing immediate treatment, those returning to attend ceremonies connected to death of a close relative, aged people needing continuous assistance and children under 10 years will be permitted to go to their houses, where they will be under strict home quarantine (self isolation) for 14 days, officials said.
The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses were kept ready for transporting the evacuated expatriates. Taxis were arranged for those who needed cars. The pilots and cabin crew were in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) suit on the flights which carried the evacuated citizens.
“Proud and privileged to carryout the first medical mission titled Vande Bharat Mission, the Pilot of Kochi bound flight said.
Two masks, sanitiser, snacks box with two cheese sandwiches and a fruit cake slice and water were provided to the passengers inside the aircraft.
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Meanwhile, the state government partially modified its order on quarantine and stated that all incoming passengers who have not undergone testing at the point of departure, will be put in Institutional Quarantine (IQ) for 14 days by the district administration. Those passengers tested and found COVID-19 negative will be put in IQ for seven days.
If they do not develop symptoms after seven days, they would be put in home quarantine for the next seven days, the order issued by Chief Secretary, Tom Jose said.
The Centre had insisted that all passengers coming to India should undergo 14 days Institutional Quarantine.
Athira Geetha Sreedharan, 27, from Dubai, who is expecting her first baby in July this year and had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking help to return for her delivery, was among those who could board the Dubai-Kozhikode flight.
“I am very happy that I have got ticket to travel in the first flight itself and I thank everyone,” Athira, who stays in Dubai with her husband Nithin chandran, said.
India has been under lockdown since March 25 to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
All domestic and international commercial passenger flights have been suspended during the three phase lockdown which began on March 25 and will continue till May 17.
In a relief to Kerala no new positive cases were reported for the second consecutive day on Thursday, while 474 people have been cured and only 25 active cases remain in the southern state.
The state, which has done extremely well in containing the spread of the contagion, is hoping that there will not be any spike in numbers once the NRKs (non-resident Keralites)return from various countries.
The aviation sector has been hit hard due to the suspension of all scheduled commercial passenger flights during the lockdown in the country which began on March 25.
(With inputs from agencies)