Two Air India flights carrying 359 expatriates stranded over the COVID-19 pandemic in the Gulf region touched down in Kerala’s Cochin International Airport in Ernakulam district and Calicut International Airport in Malappuram district in the night of 7 May. This is the beginning of the largest repatriation exercise India has ever undertaken.
The code name of the mission is Vande Bharat.
The first flight from Abu Dhabi landed at the Cochin airport at 10:08 PM, carrying 181 passengers including 49 pregnant women and four children.
The second flight from Dubai arrived at the Karipur airport at around 10:30 PM, carrying 182 passengers, including 19 pregnant women, five babies, 51 people with various illnesses and six people using wheelchairs.
Although the Gulf region is badly affected, none of the passengers showed COVID-19 symptoms. The authority moved them to quarantine facilities in their home districts, according to the airport officials. Each of these passengers is required to be in institutional quarantine for a week except pregnant women and children who can go home, the officials said.
Meanwhile, Kerala has arranged for nearly 3,00,000 quarantine beds, ultraviolet tunnels in airports, measures to disinfect passenger luggage, as part of the state’s preparations to receive those arriving home in the midst of the global COVID pandemic, which has badly affected the Middle East, especially the international travellers’ transit route Dubai.
Additional secretary in the Indian foreign ministry, Vikram Doraiswami, who is in charge of coordinating with Kerala said, “We are giving passengers personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.” The measures are aimed at ensuring that another wave of infections does not hit Kerala, he said.
While Kerala, being a state with a sizeable population of expatriates, first in India, was the first place in India where coronavirus struck, it is reported to be fighting the global pandemic well.
As of 2011, a total of 2,280,000 Keralites were residing outside India. The largest populations are found in the UAE (8,83,313), which is in the Gulf region, and the US (6,80,076).
The state government said it had planned ahead to keep the risk to the minimum. A Kerala government statement said the state would continue its successful tackling of the virus. Kerala reduced active infections from 300 last month to 30 on Wednesday.
India is expected to bring back an estimated 15,000 stranded expatriates home from 13 countries in 64 flights over the next week. In total, the evacuation could involve the return of 2,00,000 to 3,00,000 people from countries such as the US, the UK, Gulf countries and Singapore.