As of Thursday, 64 flights to the airlift, 15,000 Indians trapped abroad in one week

NEW DELHI: A massive 64-flight airlift operation will begin Thursday, bringing back some 15,000 Indian nationals from 12 countries in the first week of the ambitious exercise to repatriate thousands of people. The operation, as Foreign Minister S said in a tweet, is titled. ’

In addition to the Gulf, official sources said, unscheduled commercial aircraft will fly stranded Indians from the United States, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. The number of Indians lining up to return is expected to far exceed 1,90,000, which were initially recorded and could reach 4 lakh, the civil aviation minister said.

The return of thousands of Indians over the next few weeks marks a new challenge for India's war against Covid-19 as returnees will have to be examined and institutionally quarantined or admitted to hospitals if they show symptoms. All states, particularly those like Kerala and Maharashtra, need to prepare large facilities to keep passengers in isolation for quarantine and testing.

Fly back from the US USA And the UK to India will cost Rs 1 lakh and Rs 50,000, respectively, for special flights operated by Air India. The fare range starts at Rs 12,000 for a Dhaka-Delhi flight and one of the most demanded routes - Dubai-Kochi - will cost Rs 16,000 per person. The arrangements are for those who cannot return after India banned international flight to isolate the country from the transmission of Covid-19 from foreign shores.

Official sources said that up to 84 Indians abroad had died after hiring Covid-19 and 10,000 remained infected. Most infections are found in the Gulf and Singapore. Sources said the initial phase of the exercise will not cover OCIs. Indian workers are stranded in large numbers in various countries.

The sources also said that Indians wishing to travel will have to undergo not only medical examinations, but also Covid testing wherever the facility is available. Just like in the United Arab Emirates, where Indians will have to take rapid antibody tests before they are allowed to board the plane.

Puri said Tuesday: “In the first week (May 7-13), Air India will operate 64 flights to 12 countries where we hope to bring some 15,000 Indians back home. Already, about 2 lakh Indians abroad have registered to return to the country. We don't know what the final number of Indians will be. It could be 4 lakh.

The MEA has appointed senior officials (joint and additional secretaries) to coordinate with each state where Indian citizens will disembark. Those facing deportation in the Gulf will be at the top of the priority list for compelling cases. They will be followed by migrant workers, non-permanent visa holders, pregnant women, the elderly, people facing medical emergencies, tourists and students.

India will gradually increase flights based on the experience of the first week of operations. “States must be ready (with quarantine facilities) and accordingly we will plan for the following weeks. In the first week, all flights will be by Air India and later, private airlines can also help bring the stranded Indians back, Puri said.

The minister added that the fares for the flights were lower than the cost of operating these special flights, which could be flying only partially full or empty.

In addition, several Indians who are citizens of foreign countries or green card holders are currently stranded here due to the temporary suspension of commercial flights. People like them who are willing to pay can fly on these flights, Puri said.

Sources said the last three rows on each plane will remain vacant to accommodate passengers who show symptoms on the way. Food boxes will be provided to passengers for the flight to minimize interaction with the crew. Flyers must wear masks throughout the trip and the crew will wear personal protective equipment. In-flight entertainment systems will not be operational to minimize contact with surfaces.

Puri said keeping the middle seats vacant and operating a flight with a third of the seats unsold was not feasible. Almost all the international airlines that operate repatriation flights have also done so, as the idea is to bring as many people as possible home. All passengers will be quarantined and no one will be able to go even to their quarantine at home. And with mandatory masks, it may not be necessary to keep the intermediate seats vacant on such flights. However, we have asked Air India to accept the consent of the Interior Ministry for the same, a source said.

In the first week, the maximum number of 3,150 people is expected to return on 15 flights to Kerala from seven countries. About 2,150 will then return to Tamil Nadu (Chennai and Trichy) on 11 flights from nine countries. Around 1,900 will return to Mumbai on seven flights from six countries.

The Delhi figures will take some time to finalize as authorities await news about the available quarantine facilities, a source said. All Indians returning on these flights must spend 14 days in the hospital or in a designated quarantine facility against payment.