The world’s largest repatriation effort has gotten underway as Air India completed the first rescue flight from Abu Dhabi to Kochi. Just a few minutes later, another flight between Dubai and Kozhikode was operated. In total, 360 Indians have been rescued so far. However, this number is a tiny percentage of total passengers planned to be repatriated.
Since mid-March, the situation in India has been tense. An increasing number of COVID-19 cases had forced Indian authorities to close border impulsively and without prior notice. Since the 22nd of March, no scheduled International service has been operated out of India. As a result of this, many Indian students and workers found themselves stuck abroad.
Almost two months later, the Indian government has finally decided that it is time to bring all Indian nationals home. It is expected that, over the next week, almost 15,000 Indians will return home. Eventually, as many as 200,000 will be brought back. If this happens, it will be the biggest Indian rescue mission ever.
Air India will operate 64 flights to 12 countries starting Thursday, the 7th of May. The flights are not departing empty, as Air India is also allowing booking of seats for international citizens stuck in India. Flights to long-haul destinations like London, San Francisco, Newark, and Chicago will be operated by B777s and B787s.
However, all incoming passengers will have to follow strict guidelines put in place by the Indian government. This includes a thermal screening of all the passengers before boarding. Moreover, all incoming passengers will have to go through a compulsory 14-day quarantine in a government facility. Priority will be given to passengers who have a student status or have a medical emergency.
Unfortunately, the flights are very pricey. An economy seat from London to Mumbai has been priced at ₹62,960 ($834), which is much more than usual. However, the desperation from the Indian community suggests that they are willing to pay anything to get back as soon as possible.
The first flights
A significant percentage of the Indian diaspora is placed in the Middle East countries like the UAE, Kuwait, and Qatar. Almost 197,000 people in the UAE have already applied for a repatriation flight to one of the destinations in India. Air India Express, which is the principal subsidiary for the Middle East operation, flew two B737s to Dubai and Abu Dhabi yesterday.
All the crew members had been equipped with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and all the passengers underwent anti-body testing before boarding. On arrival, these passengers will undergo a more reliable RT-PCR test and be allowed to self-quarantine if the results come out to be negative. In the coming week, more and more Indian’s are expected to be back home.
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