Vande Bharat: Biggest evacuation exercise of corona-weary Indians start May 7


By Rushali Saha 

It’s the world’s largest evacuation mission spanning continents, which will see around 15,000 Indians being brought back to their home amid the festering coronavirus crisis. The Indian government has unveiled the flight plan where 64 flights have been designated to travel around the world to bring back students and blue-collar workers among others from abroad.The seven-day operation will begin on May 7, with flights being sent to UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Malaysia, UK, Singapore, Bangladesh, Philippines and the US.

The Indian Navy has launched Operation “Samudra Setu,” under which naval ships Jalashwa and Magar are en route to the port of Male to evacuate people.With almost all countries instituting some form of travel restrictions, the repatriation of national citizens stranded abroad had become a pressing concern for countries around the world. India acted early and evacuated over 800 of its own citizens from COVID-hit countries and 48 citizens belonging to different nationalities in March, this year.

India had banned all flights in late March, ahead of imposing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, which left thousands of students and workers stranded. Indian missions around the world have been registering requests from their citizens to return back to their home towns. Currently, the Indian embassies and high commissions are preparing lists of those in distress in these regions to ensure the evacuation is carried out smoothly. Air tickets will only be issued to those on the passenger list prepared by the Embassy or Consulate.

The first evacuation had taken place from Wuhan, what was then the global epicentre of the disease, and another large-scale evacuation focused on Iran. The Indian government was applauded for overseeing the operation to retrieve passengers from the Diamond Princess. which was docked in the port of Yokohama, Japan and had over 630 positive cases on board.Currently, India has recorded over 45,0000 cases and the MEA has laid down clear guidelines for transit and ensuring no imported coronavirus cases jolts the country. The aircrafts have a seating capacity between 200-300 passengers while assuring adequate social distancing.The government has said anyone willing to return will have to undergo medical screening and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to return. Additionally, the travellers will have to register on the Arogya Setu app after reaching their destination, where they will undergo another medical screening.

The state governments have also been notified to make arrangements for testing, quarantine and subsequent travel for those who return. This exercise will take place in a phased manner and citizens who wish to avail these services in the first phase would have to pay the necessary amount depending on where they are travelling from. Tickets from London are priced at Rs. 50,0000, Dhaka-Delhi flight costs Rs 12,000, flights from Dubai are priced at 13,000 while those repatriated from US will be charged at Rs 100,000. India’s Ministry of External Affairs will also give travellers two days’ notice with the schedule of the incoming flight on its website. Flight arrivals have been distributed to cover all major cities, with most of the air traffic going to Kerala, followed by Delhi and Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Telangana etc.

The government has also announced that it will be prioritising migrants who have been laid off, women, elderly people with medical emergencies, ones with bereavement or serious illness in their immediate family, apart from stranded tourist.


  • Indians stranded abroad due to the ongoing pandemic will be brought back via air and sea on the basis of the travellers list prepared by the respective Indian embassies.
  • The service is available only on a payment basis and for selected countries which include UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Malaysia, UK, Singapore, Bangladesh, Philippines and the US.
  • All passengers have to follow the government issued guidelines which requires them to download the Aarogya Setu app upon arrival and a compulsory 14-day quarantine on arrival. During the journey, all passengers will have to follow protocols issued by Ministry of Health and Ministry of Civil Aviation.
    Medical screening will be done before the flight and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to travel.
  • Priority will be given to “compelling cases” in distress.

(Rushali Saha works as Intern at India Writes Network)


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