The first two special flights that will operate from Thursday to evacuate Indians stranded in the UAE due to the coronavirus pandemic will begin with applicants from Kerala, who formed the majority of the expatriates who have registered to be repatriated from here, Indian Ambassador to the UAE Pavan Kapoor has said.
On Monday, the Indian government announced plans to begin phased repatriation of its citizens stranded abroad from May 7.
"The missions have prioritized the list of passengers and have given it to Air India. We would call and email each passenger to contact Air India to get their tickets issued. The first two flights on Thursday would be to Kerala, considering the high number of applicants from the state, Kapoor was quoted as saying by the Gulf News.
He said the priority list includes blue collar workers in distress, people with medical emergencies, including the elderly and pregnant women, and those who have lost jobs, the report added.
The passenger list for the two flights -- Abu Dhabi to Kochi and Dubai to Kozhikode -- will be finalized by the Embassy of India, Abu Dhabi, and the Consulate General of India, Dubai, the Indian Consulate in Dubai announced on Monday.
The list will be made on the basis of registrations in the Embassy or Consulate database which was launched for this purpose a few days back, it added.
The envoy said that there would be flights almost on a daily basis to destinations mentioned by the applicants.
In Kochi, a defense ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday that a naval ship has been sent to Dubai. The INS Shardul was diverted to Dubai to evacuate the expatriates and it will return to Kochi, he said.
A total of 200,000 expatriates have registered so far to travel back to India.
Stranded visit/tourist visa holders and those with canceled visas would also be given preference in returning home. Nearly 20 Indians who were stranded at Dubai Airport would also be given priority, Consul General of India in Dubai Vipul was quoted as saying by the report.
Meanwhile, air tickets for repatriation flights to India will not be exorbitantly priced, an official source was quoted as saying by the Khaleej Times on Tuesday.
The official pricing of tickets is yet to be revealed by the Indian ministries of Civil Aviation and External Affairs. Also, social distancing norms within the aircraft are yet to be notified, the report said.
"The ticket prices will be nominal, an amount everyone can afford. However, the final pricing of air tickets will be revealed by the Indian missions in the UAE shortly," said the source.
The Indian expatriate community of approximately 3.42 million is reportedly the largest ethnic community in the UAE constituting roughly about 30 percent of the country's population, according to information available on the Indian Embassy website.