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Sixty-four flights to a dozen countries and a couple of navy ships will bring back 15,000 stranded Indians from 7 May to 13 May. India’s largest repatriation mission has begun. Albeit the government has launched its initial phase of repatriation, it plans to bring 200,000 Indians stuck across the world, back home. Dubbed as “Vande Bharat Mission”, it will fly back Indians from as far as the US, Middle East, parts of Europe and Asia.

COVID-19 lockdown

Since 25 March when the Prime Minister announced lockdown across the country to control the spread of coronavirus, thousands of Indians have been stranded. Many Indians abroad, mostly students, are unable to bear expenses as universities are shut. Indian ex-pats have also lost jobs due to severe restrictions globally leading to pay cuts and lay-offs. Indian embassies are prioritising citizens based on a medical emergency, pregnant women and children, students and people without jobs.

Passengers with protective gear on an Air India flight from the Middle East

National carrier participates in the mission

Air India the national flag carrier is to carry out the repatriation mission. Air India will perform 40 flights while Air India Express will carry out 24 flights. 185,00 Indian nationals have already registered for repatriation in UAE alone. Repatriated citizens will pay the fare, and the government will not bear their expenses. A one-way ticket from the US costs $1400. Passengers will undergo a test for fever and other symptoms of the virus.

Most of the flights will reach the southern state of India Kerala, from where thousands go abroad for work. Passengers will have to follow health protocols, wear mask, gloves and maintain social distancing. Only those who do not show symptoms will board the aircraft. All passengers will undergo COVID-19 test once they land in India. If any passenger shows signs of the virus in flight, they will move to an isolation row in the aircraft. A single trip will have about 250-300 passengers. The passengers will also be subjected to a compulsory 14-day quarantine at a facility constructed by the local government.

The Civil Aviation Minister recently announced that domestic flights would soon begin in a calibrated manner. Airlines have been grounded since 25 March in India leading to pay cuts and job losses.

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