Several countries in the Middle East, where nearly 8 million Indians live and work, have expressed their desire to the Indian government for evacuating expatriates.
By Dr (Lt Gen) CS Narayanan
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has been relentless in its spread and has already consumed over 2.5 lac lives across the globe until today. It is becoming apparent that nations are becoming increasingly circumspect in sharing scarce medical resources with non-native populations. Many among the 13 million strong Indian Diaspora are keen to return to the country during this unrelenting and unpredictable crisis.
Several countries in the Middle East, where nearly 8 million Indians live and work, have expressed their desire to the Indian government for evacuating expatriates. Precarious financial situation is compounded in many cases by failing physical and mental health.
Considering the enormity of the logistic challenge, the Hon’ble Supreme Court had initially advised Indian nationals to stay put where they are, while allowing the health machinery to focus on domestic containment.
While the full scale is yet to unfold, the Indian Government, in close collaboration with various states, has now announced the evacuation of 14,800 Indian citizens from 13 countries in 64 flights in the first phase beginning on May 7.
Non-scheduled flights will ferry Indians from the Philippines, Singapore, Bangladesh, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, UK and USA.
The Indian Navy is mobilizing 14 warships to evacuate citizens from the Gulf.INS Jalashwa and INS Magar have been diverted to the Maldives while INS Shardul diverted to Dubai. Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar in an interview to the media said that SOPs and Protocols have been put in place to ensure the safety of evacuees as well as Naval Personnel.
In view of a large number of requests received, in excess of 2,00,000 from the UAE alone, Indian consulates in various countries are prioritizing the evacuation. Priority will be given to workers in distress, the elderly, pregnant women, and those in need of urgent medical attention. Only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel.
On reaching various destinations across India, evacuees will be quarantined for 14 days and tested for SARS-CoV-2 thereafter. Respective State governments are fully geared to receive, quarantine, test and arrange for onward movement of the evacuees.
The cost of travel and quarantine will be borne by the evacuees.
India has been singular amongst the comity of nations in responding to the clarion call of its citizens stranded abroad due to natural and man-made calamities. The airlift of 170,000 Indians from Amman to Mumbai in 488 flights operated by the Indian Airlines during the Persian Gulf War remains unparalleled in history.
(The author is Former Dy Chief Integrated Defence Staff (Medical). Views are personal.)