Airlift 2.0: India’s Vande Bharat evacuation mission begins

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India, on May 7, launched a massive evacuation mission to bring back Indian nationals stranded in foreign lands due to the travel restrictions because of the coronavirus outbreak.

National carrier Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express are going to operate to 64 flights in seven days to bring back 14,800 stranded Indians from 12 countries in a mega effort named ‘Vande Bharat Mission’.

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Here’s all you need to know about this massive exercise:

• More than 1.9 lakh Indian nationals, who would be required to pay for the flight, are likely to be brought back through this mission.

• Of the 64 flights, 15 would be to Kerala, 11 each to Delhi and Tamil Nadu, seven each to Maharashtra and Telangana, and the rest to Gujarat, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh.

• On the first day, 2,300 people will be brought back. Of these, 300 are returning from US, 250 each from UK, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines and 200 each from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh, Doha and Dhaka.

• Air India’s flight from Delhi to Singapore took off on May 7 and will bring back Indians on May 8.

• Air India Express is operating Cochin-Abu Dhabi-Cochin and Kozhikode-Dubai-Kozhikode services.

• Between May 7 and 13, ten flights will bring back Indians from UAE, another seven from the United States, seven from Malaysia and five from Saudi Arabia, in addition to other flights.

• Both airlines are following the Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) laid down by Ministry of Home Affairs to carry out this evacuation operation.

• In addition to operating one-way ferry services, the national carrier will send aircraft to conduct evacuation flights to bring back stranded Indians who meet the criteria set by the Indian government.

• India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has said that a person who has an OCI card, or held the citizenship of a foreign country, or held a valid visa of more than one year of that country, or had the green card of that country, can travel on the repatriation flight leaving India under the Vande Bharat mission.

• Stranded Indian under distress or with compelling reasons to come back will be given priority. Catergories with compelling reasons have been defined as “Laid off migrant workers, short-term visa-holders with expiry of visas, persons with medical emergency, pregnant women, elderly, those required to return to India due to death of family member, students”.

• Once these flights reach back, the incoming Indians will be medically screened and would be quarantined for 14 days—either in a hospital or in an institutional quarantine on payment-basis.

• A Covid-19 test would be done after 14 days and further action would be taken according to laid down health protocols.

• At the time of boarding the flight, passengers will have to undergo thermal screening as per health protocols and only asymptomatic travellers would be allowed to board these flights.

Ever since Covid-19 pandemic broke out, Air India has already operated flights to China, Japan and Europe to bring back Indians. The national carrier has also operated flights to repatriate foreign national to Germany, Israel and United Kingdom.

Three decades back, Air India had led a similar mega evacuation exercise to rescue over 1.1 lakh Indian nationals stranded in the Gulf after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. At that time, a total 488 flights were operated over a 59-day period bring back Indian stranded because of the Gulf war.

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