149 flights, 31 countries in Vande Bharat Phase 2

India will operate 149 flights to 31 countries, including Ukraine, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus, where Air India does not serve regular services, to bring home stranded Indians in the second phase of the Vande Bharat Mission, the Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement.

A total of 6,037 Indians were evacuated in the first five days of Phase 1 on 31 of the 64 Air India flights deployed. The seven-day Phase 1, which ends on May 13, is tasked to evacuate 14,800 Indians from more than a dozen countries including the US, UAE, Canada, the UK, Australia, Italy, France, Singapore, and Russia. The other destinations include Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Philippines, and Malaysia. The total figure of the Phase 1 returnees will be known after all the flights complete their missions.

The ministry did not reveal the number of passengers to be repatriated in Phase 2 but said it will include countries such as Ukraine, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Nigeria among the 31, which are not part of Air India’s regular flight plan.

“Each and every function in this massive air evacuation mission strictly adheres to the safety and hygiene protocol laid down by the government and DGCA. Aviation ministry, the Airports Authority of India, and Air India prioritize the safety of passengers, crew, and ground-handling staff in these sensitive evacuation missions. Extensive and meticulous safety arrangements are made in accordance to the government guidelines,” the statement said.

Not all Indians who traveled abroad are provided this facility. Only those “with compelling reasons”, for instance, those with short-term visas, death in the family, students whose campuses are shut, elderly people, pregnant women, as well as persons facing deportation can register for emergency evacuation. Those in need can apply with the Indian missions in the respective countries. India has relaxed some of the lockdown measures this week after maintaining strict social-distancing protocols for several weeks, which saw curbs on people’s movement, suspension of public transport, and all business activities, except for the essential services.

Despite stringent measures, the number of cases rose significantly in the country from less than a hundred in March to nearly 50,000 in early May. Experts say the spike in numbers could be due to the increased testing for the virus of late that was not available in the early stages. Besides infections, the death toll has also been steady increasing at nearly 2,500 as of May 13. The absence of a drug for COVID-19 treatment has kept the world leaders on their toes over concerns for the well-being of their people and the future of their countries as the economies hit the bottom with no sign of any recovery soon.

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