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'Finally, some good news': Private charter flight to rescue Australians stranded in India’s coronavirus lockdown

A file photo of Lion Air Boeing 737 (for representational purposes only); Inset photograph Capt Arvinder Pal Singh. Source: Supplied

After days of being trapped in locked-down India, a group of Australians will now be able to return on a chartered flight to Melbourne expected to fly out from New Delhi on April 10.

The Lion Air Airbus is expected to depart at around 2 pm local time from India’s capital, New Delhi,  and will transit through Denpasar in Indonesia to reach Melbourne at 9 pm (AEST) on Saturday.

An email sent to Australians stranded in India by the High Commission said the charter flight organised by a group is now accepting bookings.


Highlights:

  • A  private charter flight will rescue Australians stranded in India's coronavirus lockdown
  • The Lion Air flight is expected to fly from New Delhi to Melbourne on April 10
  • The High Commission says it is "not in a position to endorse the flight"

The High Commission, however, clarified that it is “not in a position to endorse the flight,” but is working with the flight organisers to help them with securing the necessary approvals from the Government of India needed for the flight.

“We encourage you to consider your personal and financial circumstances when making any decisions on flight options for a return to Australia. We also draw your attention to Smartraveller advice concerning the aircraft operator,” reads the High Commission’s email.

India's lockdown is due to end on April 14 and some airlines have begun taking bookings for flights from April 15 onwards, but it is unclear whether the travel restrictions will be extended.

Snapshot
A snapshot of High Commission's email to Australians stranded in India.
Supplied

‘Desperate’ to return, Newcastle-based Navy Captain Arvinder Pal Singh, who is currently stuck in Ludhiana in the northern Indian state of Punjab, has already booked his tickets for Friday.

He has now written to the High Commission requesting his ‘movement pass’ that would allow him to travel to the New Delhi international airport amid a nationwide lockdown. 

Arvinder Pal Singh
Capt Arvinder Pal Singh.
Supplied

“Finally, we have some good news. I have applied for my movement pass, special permission that I would need to travel from Ludhiana to the New Delhi international airport," Mr Singh told SBS Punjabi.

flight
A snapshot of Arvinder Pal Singh's flight itinerary.
Supplied

Sydney-based Jagvinder Singh Virk, the chairman of the India Australia Strategic Alliance, has been spearheading the rescue operation.

He said it took the group days to organise a private flight, that would carry a total of 440 passengers.

“After we realised that thousands of Australians are stuck in India, we started looking at viable options to bring them home safely. Two Australian companies came to our rescue.

"They not only helped us in organising a charter plane from Indonesia but are also taking care of the ticketing,” Mr Virk told SBS Punjabi.

Jagvinder Singh Virk, Chairman, India Australia Strategic Alliance.
Jagvinder Singh Virk, Chairman, India Australia Strategic Alliance.
Supplied

He claimed that the governments of both countries were involved in the process.

“Once we had the aircraft, these companies laid down a plan containing details of the airlines, route and the crew along with pricing that was eventually sent over to the High Commission for their approval. Both the Indian and the Australian government were consulted, and due permissions were sought.

“There are approximately 6,500 Australians who registered their details with the High Commission until last Friday. And there are still many, that I know of, who are yet to register,” said Mr Virk.

From information sent by flight organisers to Australians in India, the flight would cost them $2,200 per person, while children aged 10 years or younger and seniors aged 65 or older would be given $200 as 'gift.'

“As of now, only one flight is scheduled to fly out of India on Friday. But there would be more, details of which will be released soon,” he said.

The High Commission has said it is continuing to explore other options, but it is unlikely any will be viable prior to the scheduled lifting of the flight ban on April 14.

“We are in discussions with a number of commercial carriers for options that could be utilised if the flight ban does extend. We will update you on those when they are finalised, and if they are needed,” the email from the High Commission reads.

Natalie, a yoga enthusiast stranded in Goa in western India said she would rather sit and wait out for the High Commission to organise a repatriation flight.

“I can’t trust a private charter flight even though I know that the number of cases is climbing with every passing day. I would rather wait for the Australian government to organise a flight,” she said.

On average, there are estimated to be as many as 40,000 Australians in India at any one time, which includes Overseas Citizens of India, who are permitted to live and work in India. This figure, however, does not take into account the recent movements of Australians.

SBS Punjabi has contacted DFAT for comment.

Coronavirus symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia, according to the Federal Government's website. Symptoms can include a fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.

If you develop symptoms within 14 days of returning from overseas, you should call to seek medical attention.

If you don’t have symptoms but you have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, you should also call to seek medical attention.

If you believe you may need to get tested, call your doctor, don’t visit. Or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

Listen to SBS Punjabi Monday to Friday at 9 pm. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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