India has begun the world’s largest-ever repatriation mission today to bring back citizens stranded abroad due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The first two flights from the UAE took off carrying 177 passengers each today. Passengers started arriving at Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports as early as 9.30am on Thursday.
Some 15,000 nationals will be repatriated from 12 countries on planes and naval ships, in a mammoth exercise which saw the civil aviation ministry’s website crash Wednesday as panicked citizens rushed to register.
Two warships have steamed to the Maldives and another to the UAE — home to a 3.3-million-strong Indian community which makes up some 30 percent of the Gulf state’s population.
The consulate in Dubai said that it alone had received almost 200,000 applications, appealing on Twitter for “patience and cooperation” as India undertakes the “massive task” of repatriation.
Indian citizens with coveted tickets, arriving at Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports, were greeted by medics in masks, gloves and plastic aprons who took blood samples for antibody tests.
He said most of those aboard were workers who had lost their jobs, together with pregnant women, the elderly and some stranded tourists.
The two flights from the UAE — both destined for the southern Indian state of Kerala — will transport just 354 people.
A flight planned for Thursday from Qatar has been postponed until the weekend.
According to Indian media reports, delays have been triggered by the need to test aircrew for coronavirus.