On day one of the third phase of lockdown, the government announced the much-awaited relief for Indians stuck abroad due to cancellation of international passenger flights since March. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Monday said that the government would be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner. The MHA mentioned that the travel would be arranged by the commercial aircraft and Indian naval ships. A source from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on the condition of anonymity told The Daily Guardian, “A couple of weeks ago the government had asked all the Indian Embassies and High Commissions abroad to prepare the required list of all the Indians who want to come back to India during lockdown period.
This instruction was given to get a basic idea of the number of Indians who want to come back so that the necessary flight arrangements and the quarantine facilities can be created for them.” Indian Embassies and High Commissions are finalising the list of distressed Indian citizens. This facility would be made available on payment-basis and the nonscheduled commercial flights would be arranged for air travel. The travel would begin in a phased manner from May 7. Indicating the government’s preparedness to bring back Indians stranded abroad, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, in an exclusive interaction with The Daily Guardian last week, said, “We have maintained quite a bit of synergy when it comes to evacuation with different authorities, especially MEA. Navy has carried out such evacuations before. We are fully prepared. Whenever we get the orders to take action and evacuate, we will do it and it will be successful.” The CDS explained, “I would say that we are at the ‘Preparation Plus’ stage. I can assure you that our country has the capability and capacity to bring back stranded Indians.”
A strict Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) in this regard has also been prepared by the government. The five main ministries which have formulated this SOP are the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), MEA, MHA, Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). As per the SOP, medical screening of passengers would be done before taking the flight and upon arrival in India. The SOP mentions that only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to board the aircraft and ships. During the journey, all these passengers would have to follow the protocols, such as the health protocols, issued by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
Upon reaching the destination in India, everyone will have to register on the Aarogya Setu app and they will be quarantined for 14 days, either in a hospital or in an institutional quarantine on payment-basis, by the concerned state government. After 14 days’ quarantine, again Covid tests would be done and further action would be taken according to health protocols. The MEA and MoCA have been asked to share information about it through their websites before 6 May. Also, the state governments have been advised by the Centre to make arrangements for testing, quarantine and onward movement of the returning Indians.