Govt plans to evacuate Indians stranded abroad from May 7

Updated on May 05, 2020 03:11 AM IST

A statement issued by the government on Monday said the “facility would be made available on payment-basis” and “travel would begin in a phased manner from May 7”.

Indians evacuated from Iran undergo a disinfecting process before being quarantined at a Jaisalmer military facility in April.(PTI Photo)
Indians evacuated from Iran undergo a disinfecting process before being quarantined at a Jaisalmer military facility in April.(PTI Photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

The government will begin repatriating Indians stranded around the world because of the Covid-19 crisis in phases from May 7, using commercial flights and naval warships to bring back hundreds of thousands of citizens.

Indian missions around the world have been registering citizens stranded when Covid-19-related travel restrictions were put in place by India and other countries, and those who want to return because they have lost their jobs or to meet their families.

A statement issued by the government on Monday said the “facility would be made available on payment-basis” and “travel would begin in a phased manner from May 7”.

Anyone wishing to return to India will have to undergo medical screening and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to return to the country, the statement said. State governments will make arrangements for testing, quarantine and onward movement of people who return, it added.

The government has not given any official figure for the total number of Indians expected to return from across the world though people familiar with developments said it is expected to run into hundreds of thousands. Blue collar workers, including those who have lost jobs in West Asia, such as the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, are expected to be repatriated first, followed by students and Indians who were stranded in other countries for a variety of reasons, the people said on condition of anonymity.

At least150,000 Indians have registered to return with the Indian missions in the UAEalone, with almost a quarter of them citing job losses as the reason for returning home, the people said. About 45,000 Indians who benefited from a recent visa amnesty will be brought back from Kuwait, they said.

The statement said the government will facilitate the return of Indian nationals “stranded abroad on compelling grounds” and the “travel would be arranged by aircraft and naval ships”. A standard operating protocol (SOP) has been prepared for the repatriation, it said.

Indian missions are preparing the list of “distressed Indian citizens” and non-scheduled commercial flights will be arranged for air travel from May 7.

“Medical screening of passengers would be done before taking the flight. Only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel. During the journey, all these passengers would have to follow the protocols, such as the health protocols, issued by the ministry of health and the ministry of civil aviation,” the statement said.

On reaching their destination in India, travellers will have to register on the Arogya Setu app and undergo another medical screening. “After scrutiny, they will be quarantined for 14 days, either in a hospital or in an institutional quarantine on payment-basis, by the concerned state government,” the statement said.

Covid-19 tests will be done on the travellers after 14 days and “further action would be taken according to health protocols”, it said.

“State governments are being advised to make arrangements, including for testing, quarantine and onward movement of the returning Indians in their respective states,” it added.

The Indian Navy put three of its large warships – INS Jalashwa and two other amphibious vessels – on standby late last month to bring back thousands of Indians, especially from West Asian states, the people said. About a dozen more warships can be pressed into service if needed, they added.

After all international flights to India were suspended in March, the government advised thousands of Indians stranded around the world to “stay put” in the face of numerous requests that they be allowed to return. Officials said at the time this was done because authorities were apprehensive about the spread of the coronavirus disease and there weren’t enough quarantine facilities to cope with any sudden influx of thousands of people.

Many stranded Indians faced problems in accessing food and accommodation and there were reports of dozens of people roughing it out in airports in cities such as Dubai and Kuala Lumpur. Indian students in many countries faced problems as their universities closed due to the pandemic and they had no accommodation. In London, a group of students camped in the high commission for several days.

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