India has begun its biggest ever repatriation exercise named Vande Bharat Mission from Thursday to bring back thousands of stranded Indians from abroad.

The AI’s non-scheduled commercial flight with around 200 passengers on board is expected to land at the Kochi International airport in Kerala at 9.45 pm on Thursday, as logistical arrangements and strict health protocols were put in place at several airports including in Thiruvananthapuram, Delhi and Mumbai.

As many as 10 flights are planned to be operated on the first day from various destinations abroad. Besides Kochi, the other cities where the flights are scheduled to land on Thursday are Kozhikode(Kerala), Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Srinagar. Only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to board the flights.

On Monday, the Indian government announced plans to begin a phased repatriation of its citizens stranded abroad from May 7.

The airlines, following the laid down Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) which were released on Tuesday, have tested their pilots and crews for COVID-19.

From the Gulf countries to Malaysia and the UK to the US, the multi-agency operation christened ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ will see the state-owned AI operate 64 flights till May 13 in the first phase to ferry around 15,000 Indian nationals from 12 countries.

Beginning May 9, Air India has scheduled seven non-scheduled commercial flights from the US to India facilitating return of Indian nationals, who could not travel due to COVID-19 related international travel restrictions, the embassy there said in the latest advisory issued on Wednesday night.

Since Delhi is one of the mega cities where evacuees not only meant for the national capital but adjoining states like Haryana, Punjab may also land; a huge rush of passengers are expected. Each district magistrates are asked to arrange for their stay in respective districts.

All evacuees who will land in Delhi, will have to spend a mandatory 14 days in quarantine facilities and will undergo medical tests. This will be in adherence to the Delhi government-issued SOP for handling the passengers landing at Delhi airport.


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