India has almost repatriated six million passengers since the Vande Bharat Mission began last May. These figures include all those repatriated by ship, on Air India flights, and other private carriers. While India has reopened international movements through travel agreements, all Air India flights continue to be counted as repatriation flights.
As India reaches a combined figure of six million returnees, the number of daily repatriation arrivals by flight has been rising too. India is currently seeing 7,000-8,000 passengers flying in on Vande Bharat Mission flights daily. This is quite impressive considering the government’s original target in the early days of the VBM was just a fraction of this. The coming months will likely see the figure far exceed the six million mark.
The mission is currently in its 9th phase, operating dozens of international flights every day. Notably, Air India flights that fall under travel bubble agreements are still classified as “repatriation”. This includes flights back from leisure-oriented locations like Malè and Dubai, as well as popular routes from the US and Europe, travel restrictions for which have been eased in recent months.
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While Indians are free to travel abroad for leisure, the government is yet to allow foreign nationals to visit India for tourism. The eased restrictions allow all Indian visa holders under the travel bubble (including students, those on business, and permanent residents) to fly to India except for those coming for tourism. Additionally, India is also issuing new visas once again. However, quarantine rules remain in strict effect for all arrivals.
When will repatriation end?
While it may seem odd that India’s repatriation has continued months after most countries’, there is a reason. Many important destinations have continued to strictly limited flights to and from India, making repatriation flights essential to bringing home residents and carrying outbound passengers.
Destinations with strict caps include Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, and several others. This means repatriation flights are the only means to travel to or from these countries, which are home to thousands of Indians.
Another reason for repatriation flights is India’s ongoing ban on scheduled international flights. The ban means that all international flights currently operating are either under the travel bubble or are repatriation services. With no connecting traffic allowed, repatriation flights are sometimes the only option available for passengers.
Starting from midnight today (local time), India is introducing new arrival procedures for passengers flying into India. Due to the threat of new strains entering India, the government has enforced on-arrival testing, home quarantines, and a new close contact rule for those onboard with a positive case.
The new rules will impact travelers from the UK, South Africa, and Brazil the most, but those flying from Europe and the Middle East will be affected too. For now, repatriation flights remain essential to hundreds of thousands of travelers to return home.