India has managed to bring back 8,503 stranded Indian citizens from 12 foreign countries over the last 6 days under the first phase of the Vande Bharat Mission, which is said to be the largest evacuation exercise by any country during the Covid-19 outbreak.
The data released by the Ministry of Aviation says 43 out of a total 64 flights to be operated under the mission have been completed so far. These evacuation flights are being operated by Air India and Air India Express since 7 May. Of the 64 flights, Air India was allotted 42 flights to operate and Air India Express was given 24 flights.
The target of the government is to bring back 14,800 stranded Indians in the first phase of the Vande Bharat Mission from USA, the UK, Bangladesh, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Philippines, the UAE and Malaysia. The major concern for all was to maintain the safety and hygiene required. The government says it has taken care of health and hygiene factors in these flights and only asymptomatic passengers are allowed to board them with social distancing norms in place.
The government says the air evacuation exercise is leaving no stone unturned to safeguard the health of passengers, the crew and ground handling staff and prevent further spread of infection. Two passengers were stopped by authorities from boarding an Air India flight from Abu Dhabi to Hyderabad since their Covid-19 tests came out positive. In the remaining 3 days of Vande Bharat Mission I, both Air India and Air India Express will fly 21 flights to bring back close to 6,000 more Indians as planned by the government.
The government has already announced the second phase of Vande Bharat Mission and is planning to operate 149 repatriation flights to 31 countries between 16 May and 22 May. In this phase, flights will bring back stranded Indians from France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Japan, Armenia, Nepal and Nigeria. In the second phase, the government is planning the return of 30,000 more Indians, which is double the number of the first phase. However, flights to destinations from the first phase such as UAE, USA, UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bangladesh will continue. The rules for bringing Indians mentioned in the first phase could be changed with some modifications for the second phase.