More than 4400 Punjabis, including students, stuck in different countries have approached Punjab government with requests to return home.
As per data compiled by the Punjab State Covid Control Room, with 621 such requests, Hoshiarpur tops the districts in the state, followed by Ludhiana (538) and Amritsar (532).
Stranded Punjabis and their family members back home had approached respective deputy commissioners (DCs) and submitted applications on a weblink provided by the government. Out of total 4,442 requests received, 1,654 were made through weblink and 2,788 to the DCs.
In the first phase to bring Indian nationals stuck abroad beginning Thursday, India will operate 64 flights until May 13 from different countries, including UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia, USA, Philippines, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, to various destinations in the country.
Out of 64 flights, one from UAE would land at Amritsar with 200 passengers on the last day of the seven-day plan.
Punjab NRI Affairs Secretary Rahul Bhandari said the exact details about Punjabis returning home in the first phase were awaited from Centre. He said that Punjabis may be returning on other flights also that will land at other destinations in the country.
Bhandari said that Centre had conveyed that around 20,000 Punjabis were likely to return from abroad.
Last month, Centre asked states to give an estimate of Indian nationals in their respective states who wanted to return from foreign countries. In the official response, Punjab government had initially said that the “state government is clueless about the total number of persons intending to return to Punjab from abroad” and had suggested that “it would be useful to get the information from our Embassies in various countries”.
Punjab government had also suggested that Centre should develop a web portal and ask such people to register themselves for the purpose. Simultaneously, however, Punjab government initiated an exercise to gather the details of Punjabis willing to return from abroad through DCs and weblink http://www.covidhelp.punjab.gov.in.
The requests have been received from all the 22 districts in varying proportions. Apart from top three districts of Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana and Jalandhar, others from where Punjabis are stuck abroad include Jalandhar (406), Sangrur (338), Patiala (289), Gurdaspur (181), Bathinda (149) and Barnala (130).
The districts with number of lesser requests include Muktsar and Mansa (28 each), Pathankot (36), Faridkot (59) and Nawanshahr (70).
The Capt Amarinder Singh-led government had last month told Centre that, “If required, the state government can make arrangements for quarantine facilities for persons landing at Amritsar International Airport.”
The state government had earlier put on Centre the onus of spread of COVID-19 in Punjab. In a video conference chaired by Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and attended by two senior officers from Punjab — one from administrative side and other from police — on April 15 it was pointed out that delay in receipt of data of foreign travellers and NRIs coming to Punjab led to spread of COVID-19 in Punjab.
As per minutes of meeting prepared by Punjab and accessed by The Indian Express, “The delay in receipt of data of foreign travelers coming to Punjab after February 15, was prominently highlighted. It was also brought to the notice of secretary, MEA, that initially such delay led to spread of COVID-19 in Punjab.”
Notably, a resident of Pathlawa village in Nawanshahr district of Punjab, Baldev Singh, who had returned from Germany and died on March 18 was found to be infected with coronavirus. Twenty-eight others, who were directly or indirectly linked to him, later tested positive for the infection.
The concerns of Punjab highlighted in the meeting included the proper medical checkup and testing of the NRIs at Delhi Airport itself and preferable quarantine of all these returnees at Delhi itself.
Punjab also highlighted that “sharing of contact details of nodal officers in various Embassies and Missions abroad with state government, including police, should be done on a priority basis”.
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