India on Thursday launched one of its biggest evacuation exercises, bringing back the first batch of expatriates stranded overseas amid the COVID-19 shutdown. At 10.20 pm, an Air India Express flight from Abu Dhabi landed in Kerala’s Kochi international airport with 177 passengers and four children.
Minutes later, in North Kerala’s Kozhikode airport, another flight landed from Dubai with 177 passengers and five children.
India had earlier announced that as part of Phase 1 of an evacuation plan titled ‘Vande Bharat Mission’, 64 flights and three Navy ships would be operated to bring home nearly 15,000 Indians stranded overseas.
On Thursday, passengers who landed in Kochi and Kozhikode came home to an unusual welcome. Instead of crowds of relatives thronging the arrivals gate, they were greeted by officials and health workers who stood in PPE gear in the disinfected terminal.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) May 7, 2020
The passengers were ushered in batches into a triage area, where they were made to undergo mandatory health screening. Those symptomatic will be shifted to Covid hospitals while the asymptomatic will be moved to institutional quarantine centres for 14 days in their home districts.
However, pregnant women, the elderly, children below 10 and the indisposed have been allowed to travel to their homes, where they will have to stay under strict home quarantine. There were around 60 pregnant women in the first two flights.
Airport authorities said baggage will be handed over to passengers only after strict disinfection procedures – a spray of sodium hypochlorite, followed by exposure to ultraviolet rays by passing the luggage through two tunnels. The ultraviolet disinfection system, developed by DRDO, was recently installed at Kochi airport.
After passengers get their luggage, they will be grouped according to their home districts, before being taken to quarantine centres there in special buses.
Earlier in the day, state Health Minister K K Shailaja said there are only 25 active coronavirus cases in the state, with three people from Kannur and two from Kasaragod districts being declared free of the virus.
According to the Health Department, the number of hotspots have come down from a high of 100-odd two weeks ago to 33. On Thursday alone, 56 local bodies were dropped from the list of hotspots.
Of total 502 confirmed coronavirus cases reported in the state so far, only five have been reported since May 1. Most fresh cases reported in the state in the last few days were of people with travel history from coronavirus-hit zones from other states, particularly Tamil Nadu, it was informed.
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