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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - By Hassan Cheruppa
RIYADH — As part of Indian government’s largest repatriation of its nationals stranded abroad from all over the world, which will begin Thursday, national carrier Air India will be operating special flights to carrying Indians home. The carrier will operate five special flights from Saudi Arabia to India in the coming days.
The first flight bound for Calicut in the southern state of Kerala with 153 passengers on board, will take off from King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, at 12.35 p.m. on Friday.
In a virtual press conference held on Wednesday, Indian Ambassador Dr. Ausaf Sayeed said that a total of 60,000 Indian nationals have so far registered to travel to India since the launch of the online registration on April 29.
He said that this first phase is limited evacuation of the most compelling cases and it would take some time to repatriate the large number of those registered with the missions on board the special flights.
These special flights are the only mode of transportation for the moment, as ships will not be used to ferry Indians from the Kingdom. We are working with Saudi authorities in this regards too if the need arises.
In the first leg of the repatriation, less than 1,000 Indians will be sent home and these include three flights to Kerala and two to New Delhi as initially planned for this week. In the next phase, additional embarkation points such as Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai will be considered for repatriation.
“We embarked on a challenging task and a complex operation involving federal government, state governments and diplomatic missions, and this week is the testing ground for all the agencies involved. It entails massive and close coordination between the Embassy, the Consulate, government of India’s COVID Cell in New Delhi, and the state governments,” he said.
The envoy said that a total of 2,788 Indian nationals, who tested coronavirus positive, are undergoing treatment in various hospitals across the Kingdom and there were 21 fatalities among Indians. The dead included six from Kerala, five from Maharashtra, four from Telengana and three each from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Dr. Sayeed said that passengers will have to pay for their tickets, which will be issued only to those listed in the manifests provided by the Embassy and the Consulate.
“We are prioritizing individuals on the basis of exigencies, such as distressed workers, urgent medical cases, pregnant women and stranded Umrah pilgrims. As part of their evacuation, Air India is operating four flights on Riyadh-Delhi; Dammam-Kochi; Jeddah-Kochi and Jeddah-Delhi sectors in addition to Friday’s Calicut flight from Riyadh,” he said.
The airfare for the four flights in economy class has also been fixed. These include SR900 for May 8 Riyadh–Calicut flight; SR1,023 for the May 10 Riyadh-Delhi flight; SR850 for May 12 Dammam-Kochi flight; SR1,350 for the May 13 Jeddah-Delhi flight while the fare for the May 14 Jeddah-Kochi flight is yet to be announced. The fares are not decided locally but from the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
The Embassy and the Consulate have started contacting the shortlisted nationals directly over phone or email seeking their consent and convenience for the proposed travel to India. They are advised to contact local Air India offices for booking of tickets and other formalities.
The envoy also revealed that there are about 300 Indians at deportation centers awaiting deportation. “We have completed all the travel documents and once the deportation authorities give us the green signal, special flight will be operated to take them home,” he said.
He, however, pointed out that the Indian missions at the moment do not have information about the number of Indians who have registered for return by taking advantage of the Ministry of Interior’s new service of Awdah (return) through the Abshir portal.
“We will work out the modalities with the Saudi authorities and hopefully get the number of Indians registered. But currently, the Saudi authorities have not released the numbers.”
Dr. Sayeed said the Embassy and the Consulate are working out a mechanism on how to facilitate the boarding of the registered people who are living in remote regions in the Kingdom. Once the number of flights increases we could add more embarkation points, closer to many of these people, the envoy added.
“Some Saudi companies have approached us to facilitate special charter flights to repatriate their laid-off workers and a decision is yet to be taken on this matter,” Dr. Sayeed said of those companies that had approached the missions to repatriate the Indians.
Dr. Sayeed added only those who test negative for coronavirus would be allowed to travel. He, when asked about social distancing during travel, also revealed that it would be up to the carrier to work out a system.
“But I believe that they are carrying less numbers in order to practice this safety measure,” he added.
India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has issued Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) with regard to fulfilling health requirements for boarding flights and quarantine arrangements after landing in India.
“We are in touch with Saudi authorities and working out the modalities with the MoH on how pre-boarding testing will be done. It is a mandatory requirement and we are individually informing the passengers about this requirement,” he said.
Dr. Sayeed urged the community members to maintain social distancing and follow the norms issued by the Kingdom in containing the spread of the pandemic.
He called on them to avoid personally visiting the Embassy and Consulate premises but said that they may contact for any assistance via Embassy of India, Riyadh COVID-19 the Helpline No.: -966-546103992 Email: [email protected] Consulate General of India, Jeddah COVID-19 Helpline No.: +966-556122301 / 8002440003 Email: [email protected] / [email protected]
Deputy Chief of Mission Dr. Pradeep Singh Rajpurohit and Consul General Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh attended the virtual session, which was managed by Second Secretary (Political & Information) at the Embassy Asim Anwar. Some journalists joined the press conference from India and were briefed along with the local Indian journalists from various parts of the Kingdom.
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