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Covid-19 travel: India's new travel protocol gives priority to international students, senior citizens, medically-unwell

Source: Wikimedia/mitrebuad

The Government of India issued its Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) for the movement of Indian nationals stranded overseas. This follows their earlier announcement about their ‘mega repatriation operation’ starting on May 7, titled ‘Vande Bharat’.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has prepared a protocol that is mandatory for everyone to follow who will be aboard a flight back to India.

Over 14,8000 Indian nationals will be brought back to India by way of 64 flights from 12 countries today.


Highlights:

  • Operation 'Vande Bharat' will repatriate Indians stranded overseas
  • Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) to prioritise travel for students, senior citizens, medical emergencies and death in their family
  • Cost of travel and 14-day quarantine in India to be borne by passengers

The first flights to repatriate Indians are scheduled from May 7 from some Gulf countries, the UK, US, Singapore, Malaysia and Bangladesh.

Similar plans have been prepared for the next six days for various countries in which Indians are stuck due to coronavirus restrictions. Australia doesn’t figure in these plans yet.

Amongst all those stranded overseas, the SOP mentions that priority travel will be enabled for “compelling cases in distress”.

These cases comprise international students, migrant workers/ labourers who have been laid off, short-term visa holders faced with an expiry of visas, persons with a medical emergency, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who have had a death in their family in India.

Passengers will have to pay for their airfare as well as for their mandatory 14-day quarantine upon reaching India. The fare for passengers from Europe is around Rs 50,000 ($1000 approximately) whereas the same for those travelling from the US is Rs 100,000 ($2000 approximately).

The airfare for passengers from Australia has not yet been announced by the Indian government.

Thousands of Indian nationals have since contacted the Indian High Commission and Consulates General to register for this repatriation operation.

'Australian dream ended in 3 months'

Siddharth Patil, had big dreams when he landed in Sydney in February. He is now planning to return home to Pune, in India’s south-western state of Maharashtra.

Patil
Siddharth Patil with his friends.

Enrolled in the University of Technology Sydney’s Bachelor of Business course, this 19-year-old arrived in Australia at a time when his dreams were just beginning to wither away.

“I have been able to attend only three classes so far at university. I haven’t been able to find a job either. Call it luck, but I have no option but to go back to India so soon because my family can’t keep sending me money to survive,” says Mr Patil, who has registered with the Indian Consulate to return home.

The university, he says, has told him that if he returns to India and gets his student visa cancelled at the Australian High Commission there, he may get 60 per cent of his course fee back.

“In three months, my Australian dream has cost my family around Rs 700,000 (almost $15,000). I can’t keep money spilling out of my parents’ pockets here,” says Mr Patil.

'We need to return to our jobs'

Gurpreet Sahni and her husband arrived in Australia last month with her husband to attend their daughter’s wedding reception, which eventually got postponed due to social distancing restrictions.

Instead of participating in family celebrations, they found themselves registering for the first opportunity to return home.

“When you visit a country on a tourist visa, you take a limited amount of money with you. Because of this crisis, our return ticket got cancelled. The refund was due in three weeks, which we are still waiting for. Other people I know who are in a similar situation, have repeatedly booked new tickets and this is how all our money is blocked,” says Ms Sahni.

She adds that apart from the financial hardship being faced by people like her, her husband, who is working in the defence forces of India, has limited leave from work and needs to be back.

'Medical emergency is unaffordable in Australia'

Savithri Balakrishnan, aged 58, came to Australia to attend to her pregnant daughter. Little did she know that she will need to be attended by not only family in Sydney, but also by hospital staff after she learnt she had kidney failure.

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Ms Balakrishnan with her husband.
Supplied

Her treatment has cost her daughter’s family over $40,000 so far.

For her and her family, the priority now given to Indian nationals with medical emergencies to travel to India has brought a ray of hope.

Tourists do not enjoy medical support in Australia, therefore, for the likes of Ms Balakrishnan, the opportunity to return to India means the possibility of affordable medical treatment.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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