Some of the Indian nationals stranded in the US due to COVID-19 related international travel restrictions will fly back home on Sunday on a non scheduled commercial flight from New Jersey to Mumbai and Ahmedabad, even as authorities said another five flights have been arranged to repatriate others still stuck in the country.
Beginning May 9, Air India has scheduled seven non-scheduled commercial flights from the US to India facilitating the return of Indian nationals, who could not travel due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Indian Embassy in Washington had said in its advisory on Wednesday night.
The first flight took off from San Francisco on Saturday to Mumbai and Hyderabad. The Air India flight from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey will fly on Sunday, taking back Indian nationals to Mumbai and Ahmedabad under India's biggest ever repatriation exercise named ‘Vande Bharat Mission’.
Another flight from Newark will fly on May 14 to Delhi and Hyderabad. All passengers will be required to undergo medical screening before boarding the flight and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to travel.
All passengers on arrival in India will be medically screened and would have to download and register the Aarogya Setu app.
Further, all passengers will need to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine on arrival in India in institutional facilities on payment basis as per the protocols framed by Government of India.
Highly placed sources in the Indian Consulate in New York said that it "has been a relentless and non-stop work" to coordinate the repatriation exercise and authorities "are going out of their way to make sure not even one seat on the flight goes vacant" since a large number of Indians are stranded in the US due to various reasons and they are "desperate" to go home.
Priority is being given to stranded passengers, terminally-ill patients, passengers with medical concerns and students.
The sources said that while flights from New Jersey were only supposed to take passengers from states that fall under the jurisdiction of the Consulate in New York, special arrangements have been made to ferry four terminally-ill patients from Houston.
Apart from the two flights from New Jersey, two flights have been scheduled from Chicago on May 11 (to Mumbai and Chennai) and May 15 (Delhi and Hyderabad).
The solo flight from Washington DC on May 12 will fly to Delhi and Hyderabad.
Sources said that some people who had initially registered to return to India on the flights later balked and changed their plans as they did not want to undergo the two-week mandatory quarantine on arrival in India.
Sources said the repatriation exercise could be expanded to countries where there is high demand.
Under the 'Vande Bharat' Mission, India has already repatriated its citizens from the Gulf and the UK.
Nearly 15,000 Indians are expected to return on special Air India flights from 12 countries in the coming days.
The sources said efforts were being made to reach out to the Indians stranded in the US.
The Indian Consulate here has been assisting several students by helping them with accommodation and essential services after their university and college dormitories closed down.
Indian Consulate sources said they were facing a number of challenges in the repatriation exercise.
People share credit card details with pizza companies but now they are reluctant to share details when the Consulate and Air India authorities are working round-the-clock to help them, the sources added.