After eight months apart, the last three of which were spent in extreme anxiety, Devendra Dagaliya will have to wait another two weeks more to bring his daughter home. For now though, he is simply relieved that she is back on Indian soil.
Dhwani Dagaliya (18) was among the 572 passengers who were flown back home by Air India from London and Singapore on Sunday. While 329 passengers returned from London, 243 arrived from Singapore in the afternoon.
Seven repatriation flights will arrive in Mumbai over this week. The third flight with 241 passengers from Manila is expected to land at 11 pm on Sunday.
The Indian citizens who arrived on Sunday went through thermal screening before being handed their disinfected luggage in sanitised trolleys. A spokesperson for the Mumbai International Airport Limited said provisions have been made to isolate passengers displaying symptoms of Covid-19 and shift them to isolation centres in dedicated ambulances.
Of the 329 passengers who landed at Mumbai airport from London, 81 were sent to their respective home district and states – while 65 were sent to Pune, 16 others left for other districts in Maharashtra and Goa. BMC officials said remaining 248 travellers were put up in institutional quarantine facilities made available at various hotels.
The civic body has arranged for 3,343 rooms in 88 hotels to house the repatriated air passengers for 14 days. At the end of the fortnight, the passengers will be allowed to go home once cleared by doctors from the BMC’s heath department. However, they will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days more. For this, the passengers were ordered to download the Centre’s Arogya Setu app soon after landing.
Of the 81 allowed to go home, all except three people have downloaded the app. “With the help of state transport and BEST buses, all passengers were sent to their respective destinations. All have been asked to stay in home quarantine for 14 days,” said an official.
Devendra, who lives in Bhuleshwar and runs a diamond jewellery manufacturing business, said that Dhwani had settled into a hotel in south Mumbai.
A BA Honours student at De Montfort University in Leicester, Dhwani was among a large number of students on board the flight from London. Her father said that her summer term was suspended in March as the pandemic swept the UK. Devendra had to maintain a safe distance when Dhwani finally walked with other passengers after 4 am. “Though you can’t go too close, your eyes get wet when you see your child after eight months,” he said.
Any decision on Dhwani resuming her education in the UK, said Devendra, would depend on the state of the world in September, when the autumn term traditionally begins. “I would not want to send my child so far away again. She was helpless until the government decided to bring stranded students and tourists back.”
Ghatkopar resident Rajesh Shah, whose daughter was on holiday in London when India suspended flights in March, was grateful to the Ministry of External Affairs and to the Indian High Commission in London for facilitating her safe return. “We appealed to our MP for help. My daughter also kept pleading with the High Commission. Once the flight schedule was announced, things moved very quickly,” he said.
“Social distancing wasn’t followed on the flight. The airline had informed us that one seat would be kept empty between two passengers but that did not happen. My daughter told me that the whole airplane was full,” he claimed.
Many passengers also alleged that they had to wait more than four to five hours at the airport before leaving for their destinations. Deputy Municipal Commissioner Vijay Balamvar, who is handling the quarantine and screening facilities, was not available for comment.