US, others to speed up evacuations after go-ahead from Ministry of Home Affairs

NEW DELHI: Countries including the US will evacuate their citizens – tourists, professionals, businessmen, families and others – stranded in India since international flights were disallowed from March 22 by operating special flights from this weekend.

The evacuation of foreign nationals is expected to gather momentum following the home ministry’s directive on Thursday.

The US, which carried out its first evacuation earlier this week by a chartered flight, will operate flights from this weekend. There are less than 100,000 US citizens in India, according to some estimates.

Over the past two weeks, about 10,000 people were evacuated by Israel, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal through special flights, ET has learnt. More evacuations are expected over the next few weeks, with various embassies in touch with the external affairs ministry on the issue.

Russia sent four special flights since last week to take back over 1,000 people, mostly tourists stranded in India. The first such special flight to Russia was operated on March 25 morning. Over 300 French nationals, 900 Germans, 200 Italians and 600 people from Afghanistan have been evacuated so far. About 1,500 Israelis have also been evacuated, ET has learnt.

For foreign nations, the external affairs ministry is examining requests on a case-by-case basis.

The home ministry on Thursday ordered the evacuation of foreign nationals stranded in India and the release of those who came from abroad and were quarantined. Officials said the process will be carried out by observing standard health protocols for Covid-19 negative cases.

Only foreigners who are asymptomatic for Covid-19 will be allowed to leave the country, said a government functionary. He added that state governments and Union Territories have been instructed to facilitate the movement of foreigners and the home secretary is monitoring the process during daily reviews.

Meanwhile, foreign secretary Harsh V Shringla had a telephonic conversation with the Secretary General of the European External Action Service, Helga M Schmid, on Friday and they exchanged notes on efforts to deal with the Covid-19 in the EU and India as well as coordination in the framework of G20, SAARC and other groupings. She thanked him for facilitating the return of EU nationals from India. The foreign secretary reassured her of India’s continued support in facilitating the return of EU nationals.

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