Coronavirus: India begins historic evacuation mission with two flights from UAE

File photo of Air India Express Boeing 737-800 aircraft. (Supplied)

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)

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.”


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

Upon arrival, all passengers will be placed in quarantine centers in their respective districts. Pregnant women, senior citizens and children under the age of 10 will be quarantined in their homes.

Temperature guns and thermal scanners were set up at the airport terminals to check the temperature of the passengers on their arrival. Those who have symptoms will be taken to a hospital via ambulance.

Vipul, the consul general of India in Dubai, with an elderly couple travelling on Dubai-Kozhikode flight at Dubai Airport on Thursday. (Twitter)

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

In late March, India banned all incoming international flights as it imposed one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns, leaving workers and students stranded across the globe.

As many as 2,000 Indians wishing to return home from the UAE are expected to be flown to six Indian states in the first week of the repatriation exercise.

Ten repatriations flights will be operating to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi, and Punjab in the first week of the phased repatriation, according to the Press Information Bureau of India.

The next flight to Kerala from the UAE will be operated from Dubai to Kochi on Monday.

There will be two flights to Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu from Dubai on Friday and one to Lucknow in the state of Uttar Pradesh from Sharjah on Saturday. In addition, there will be a flight to Hyderabad in the State of Telangana from Abu Dhabi on Sunday, two flights to Delhi from Dubai on Tuesday, and one to Amritsar in the state of Panjab from Dubai on Wednesday.

In total, Air India will operate 64 flights from May 7-13 to bring back around 15,000 Indian nationals stranded across the world amid the COVID-19-induced lockdown, India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said a virtual press conference on Tuesday.

Private Indian airlines may join the repatriation effort after May 13, he added.

“I want to reiterate that this is a limited operation which does not signal resumption of domestic and 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,” he wrote on twitter.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 14:07 - GMT 11:07
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