Thousands arrive home as ‘Vande Bharat’ enters final phase

Thousands of stranded Indian citizens have already reached home while many more are arriving in the next two days from over a dozen countries in the largest ever evacuation exercise in India’s history. Dubbed as Vande Bharat Mission, it is tasked with bringing back some 15,000 Indians stuck in various cities in the Middle East, the UK, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Singapore, among others. Several flights as well as navy ships carrying Indian citizens have arrived home since the operation began on May 7.The government is operating 64 Air India flights as well as air force planes and naval ships for the mission. Many stranded citizens from nearly a dozen metropolises, such as Singapore, London, Kuwait, Muscat, Dhaka, and Kuala Lumpur have already arrived in various Indian cities. The flights are making multiple trips for the evacuation that will continue till May 13.

A total of 323 stranded Indians reached Bengaluru on May 11.  The passengers were shifted to quarantine centres being operated in the city hotels where they will stay put for 14 days. Many more flights are scheduled to take off from Washington, London, Manila, Abu Dhabi, Dhaka, and Singapore on day 5 of the operation. An Air India flight from Doha to Thiruvananthapuram had to be rescheduled for May 12 after it was denied permission to land in the Qatar capital.The Navy’s INS Magar has set sail from Male to Kochi with 202 people onboard on May 10, while another navy ship, INS Jalashwa, departed from the Maldivian capital with 698 Indian citizens onboard, arrived at the Kerala port city on the same day.

While over 300,000 Indians have requested for repatriation, only a select few, based on the level of urgency and need, are being brought home. The Ministry of External Affairs, which is coordinating the exercise, said only “those with compelling grounds” were provided the facility.The criteria includes those facing deportation, short-term visa holders, job loss, medical emergency, pregnant women, elderly people, death in the family, tourists as well as students who are stuck due to the closure of colleges and hostels.

The returnees are quarantined as per the health ministry’s protocols. In Delhi, some 20 state-run public transport buses are deployed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport to ferry the passengers to quarantine facilities. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal informed that 8-10 hotels were readied in New Delhi, South, and South East Delhi as paid quarantine facilities in addition to the government health centres, Strict social distancing measures were ensured, Mr Kejriwal added.

Thousands of Indians were left stranded abroad after countries shut down their borders to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them were caught off-guard with the sudden lockdown. Those who had gone on short-term visas were the most affected. Students were forced to vacate their hostels due to the social distancing measures. While they were given temporary shelters outside their campuses, their well-being has been a concern.India has also been in lockdown for over a month as cases continued to rise. Because of the hardships, the government has relaxed some of the measures to allow limited economic activities in select areas where the pandemic is not very severe.

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there are currently some 40,000 active cases while nearly 2,000 people were killed by the disease so far. Some 20,000 people have also been cured since its outbreak in early March in India. The humanitarian crisis arising from COVID-19 is the most severe since the World War II. There has never been such a large-scale disruption of normal lives in the last several decades

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