India began the world’s largest repatriation mission on Thursday to bring back citizens stranded abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic, with two Air India Express flights departing from Abu Dhabi and Dubai carrying a total of 354 passengers.
Some 200,000 applicants registered their names with the Indian missions in the UAE in hopes of being selected for the flights.
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The repatriation mission, dubbed Vande Bharat began with a flight from Abu Dhabi to Kochi with 177 passengers on board that took off at 5:07 p.m., followed by a Dubai-Kozhikode flight with 177 people at 5:46 p.m.
Indian Ambassador to UAE Pavan Kapoor is seen with some of the passengers undergoing medical screening at Abu Dhabi airport before they board the Abu Dhabi-Kochi repatriation flight, on Thursday. (Twitter)
Priority was given to pregnant women and accompanying family members, people with medical emergencies, workers and housemaids in distress, families with canceled visas, bereaved family members who couldn’t attend funerals back home, students, and stranded visitors and tourists. Two brothers who were stranded at Dubai International Airport for 50 days were among the passengers, the mission said in a statement.
Speaking to media at Dubai airport before the departure of the flight, Vipul, the consul general of India in Dubai, said, “In this flight we have 177 passengers. Many of them are pregnant ladies. We will have lots of Indian workers who are in distress, we have the elderly people and lots of medical cases, and some of the stranded visitors who could have come to meet their families or for tourism purposes.”
“It’s a good mix of people. And we tried to accommodate everyone who was in acute distress and who had been stranded for some time.”
Consul General Vipul has led the entire relief operations during Covid crisis in Dubai and Northern Emirates including repatriation task starting today @MEAIndia @IndianDiplomacy @MOS_MEA @IndembAbuDhabi https://t.co/Inwe9ZGgZV— India in Dubai (@cgidubai) May 7, 2020
Nine seats were reserved for isolation on each flight in case a passenger developed symptoms during the journey.
Before boarding the flights, the passengers were asked to undergo a medical screening and only asymptomatic persons were allowed to travel.
“Dubai authorities have set up very nice facility for the people to go through … tests before they are cleared for boarding,” said Vipul.
However, on board the flights, the recommended six feet for social distancing will not be observed.
Preparations at Kerala airports
Vipul, the consul general of India in Dubai, with an elderly couple travelling on Dubai-Kozhikode flight at Dubai Airport on Thursday. (Twitter)
Those who do not have symptoms will be re-examined at health counters and then will be taken to the immigration counter. The Air India Express flight crew that flew to Kerala on Thursday wore full personal protective equipment, and the flights have special parking bays and aerobridges. Passengers’ baggage will be disinfected with sodium hypochlorite.
Ten flights to six states in one week
I want to reiterate that this is a limited operation which does not signal resumption of domestic & international civil aviation services. We will consider reopening the Indian skies only after the current lockdown. This will depend on the evolving situation on the ground.— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) May 5, 2020