As 444 from Australia fly home, US nationals prefer to stay back

NEW DELHI: As Australia repatriated 444 of its nationals on a special flight from New Delhi to Melbourne over the weekend, many others, particularly from the US, are opting to remain here, as US becomes the country worst hit by Covid-19.

Earlier this week, US officials said a number of American nationals preferred to remain in India even though the US state department was running special flights to take stranded Americans back home. US President Donald Trump tweeted that over 50,000 people had been taken back.

But a number of Americans are clearly opting to stay back. In a briefing with journalists in Washington DC earlier this week, US state department official Ian Brownlee said, “We had multiple thousands when we put in India the call out for expressions of interest in a flight, and yet over this weekend, our staff in India literally cold-called 800 people asking if they wanted to get on a flight today. We got 10 positive responses, 10 out of 800 calls. So that’s just an indication of the uncertainty of some of these numbers we’re looking at.” He said they were tracking 24,000 US nationals still in India.

Damu Ravi, MEA’s additional secretary and in charge of the Covid-19 response, told journalists the MEA had facilitated the repatriation of 20,473 foreign nationals from India.

The UK plans to run 12 more charter flights this week from Amritsar, New Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Kolkata. In the first round of flights last week, out of 35,000 registered Britons in India, around 20,000 opted to return.

UK minister of state for South Asia and the Commonwealth Tariq Ahmad was quoted as saying, “We are doing all we can to get thousands of British travellers in India home. This is a huge and complex operation which also involves working with the Indian government to enable people to move within India to get on these flights. Over 300 people arrived from Goa on Thursday morning, 1,400 more will arrive over the Easter weekend and these 12 flights next week will bring back thousands more.”

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