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In efforts to bring back thousands of Indians stranded abroad due to the COVID-19 outbreak, India is launching the world’s largest evacuation mission. By Upasana Singh

In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic that has taken the entire world by storm, thousands of Indians are stuck abroad. With international and national borders being closed, it has been impossible for the citizens to return home. India has decided to deploy commercial jets, military transport planes, and naval warships from Thursday, in what has been declared as the biggest-ever peacetime repatriation exercise in history. This is the largest mission since India’s flag carrier, Air India flew back 1,70,000 people during the first Gulf War from Kuwait in 1990.

 

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According to the Indian Navy, in the first phase of the drive, about 1.8 million Indian citizens will be brought back home. At least four Indian Navy Ships, including two large tank landing vessels, have been deployed. INS Jalashwa and INS Magar will reach the Maldives on May 8 while INS Shardul and INS AIravat are scheduled to reach the UAE on May 10.

The foreign ministry has claimed that over 14,800 Indians in 13 countries will be brought back by 64 flights in the first week. Over the next few days, the government will operate flights in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, USA, UK, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Philippines, and Singapore. About 30 aircrafts, including Boeing C-17 Globemaster and Lockheed Martin Corp’s C-130J Super Hercules, have been prepared by the Indian Air Force for the mission.

To ensure social distancing, each flight will have around 200-300 passengers. Medical screening of passengers will be done before boarding the flight and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to travel. Indians who work abroad or are green card holders and are stranded in India due to temporary suspension of commercial flights will also have the option to fly out on these flights.

The fares of these special flights from the US and UK to India will cost anywhere between INR 100,000 and INR 50,000 respectively. In a major announcement, the Union Government stated that on reaching India, the passengers will be “mandatorily quarantined for two weeks, either in a hospital or in an institutional quarantine on payment-basis, by the concerned state government.”

 

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Officials have declared that priority will be given to pregnant women, the elderly, people facing medical emergencies and those with bereavement or serious illness in their immediate family, and stranded tourists.

On March 25, the Indian government imposed a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of Coronavirus. A few days prior to this, all scheduled international flights to India were cancelled and citizens were asked to stay put until arrangements are made to bring them back.

This latest mission to evacuate citizens is a major part of India’s move to partially ease movement restrictions in parts of the country after observing over 40 days of strict stay-at-home rules.

Related: Lockdown 3.0 In India: What’s Allowed & What’s Not