India has formally launched its large-scale repatriation drive for Indians stranded overseas because of lockdowns due to COVID-19. The initiative, called “Vande Bharat” (hail India), will involve more than 60 flights that will transport about 15,000 Indians from 12 different countries. The first flight back home is expected to arrive today.
National airline Air India will facilitate the repatriation mission, which will last over the next week. India will fly planes to the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, among others. Majority of the flights are set to fly back to the southern state of Kerala, which is home to a large number of overseas workers. Each flight will carry 200 to 250 passengers.
Indians wanting to return are expected to pay for their own airfare, the price of which varies depending on their departure point. Only those without symptoms of the coronavirus disease will be allowed on board. Additionally, all passengers transported back to India must undergo a 14-day quarantine upon return. In spite of these measures, Indians seem to be keen on returning home. At least 197,000 applications have already been received in the Vande Bharat mission in the United Arab Emirates alone.
The mission implements health protocols while on board. The crew will wear protective gear, while passengers must have masks and abide by social distancing norms. Should any passenger show symptoms mid-flight, they will be moved to the aircraft’s isolation zone.
The country has also mobilised its navy’s ships to assist in the evacuation, two of which are already en route to Maldives for the evacuation of 1,000 Indians stuck in the capital Male.