The first Air India Express flight carrying Indian citizens from Abu Dhabi landed at the Kochi airport on Thursday (May 7) night as India launched its biggest ever repatriation exercise in its history, ‘Vande Bharat’ to bring back its citizens stranded abroad amid the international travel lockdown due the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Air India Express flight ‘IX 452’ with 177 passengers and four infants landed at the Cochin International Airport (CIAL) at 10.09 pm, an airline spokesman said.
Another Air India Express flight ‘IX 344’ with 177 passengers and five infants from Dubai is expected to land at the Kozhikode Interantional Airport at 10.45 pm, he said.
Passengers started arriving at Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports as early as 9.30 am on Thursday to board their flights at night. Some of the passengers were seen carrying the Indian flags.
Before the two flights took off, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said on Twitter, “#VandeBharatMission begins! The first flight with 177 passengers takes off from Abu Dhabi to Kochi. #TeamIndia will continue with its tireless efforts to bring Indians home.”
The first flight with 177 passengers takes off from Abu Dhabi to Kochi#TeamIndia will continue with its tireless efforts to bring Indians home@PMOIndia @PIBHomeAffairs @MoCA_GoI @MoHFW_INDIA @IndembAbuDhabi pic.twitter.com/9wemQEhY23
— Anurag Srivastava (@MEAIndia) May 7, 2020
Vipul, the Consul General of India in Dubai, was quoted as saying by the Gulf News that there were no suspected COVID-19 cases among the first batch of passengers being repatriated on Thursday. “All of them have cleared the tests,” he said.
Vipul said the criteria of passengers selection included medical cases, loss of jobs, pregnant women and senior citizens. Those with complications and financial issues were also picked.
“Short-listing the first passengers from among a database of more than 200,000 applicants, who include around 6,500 pregnant women, has been a mammoth task which posed several challenges for the missions,” Neeraj Agrawal, Consul, Press, Information and Culture at the Indian Consulate in Dubai told the Gulf News.
The last two rows of seats in both the flights are not occupied. In case of any health issues, passengers can use be seated in those two rows.
The evacuated citizens will be sent to the quarantine facilities set up by the administration in their respective districts, Kerala government officials said.
On Monday (May 4), the Indian government announced plans to begin a phased repatriation of its citizens stranded abroad from May 7.
The government also said that Air India will operate 64 flights from May 7 to May 13 to bring back around 15,000 Indian nationals stranded abroad amid the COVID-19-induced lockdown.