KOLKATA: The civil aviation ministry has scheduled 11 repatriation flights to Kolkata for Indian citizens stranded abroad in the fourth phase of Vande Bharat flights, which is supposed to have 347 flights being operated between July 1 and 15.
In the second and third phases of the mission, Kolkata had received 33 flights.
Delhi (with 72 arrivals) and Kochi (52) make up a third of the flights in the fourth phase. Chennai has 25 arrivals, Mumbai 24, Hyderabad 20 and Bengaluru 14 in the latest phase. Kolkata has the least number of arrivals among metros. Of the 11 flights, eight are direct flights from Kuwait City to Kolkata operated by Kuwait Airways. The remaining three to be operated by Air India will fly in passengers from Chicago, Newark and London after a halt at either Delhi or Mumbai.
Kolkata had not figured in the first phase of 84 Vande Bharat flights. Flights were allocated in the second phase after chief minister Mamata Banerjee said that the state was being discriminated against despite being ready with infrastructure, including protocols for paid quarantine in various categories of hotels. The city was included in the second and third phases of the Vande Bharat mission, during which 1,131 flights were operated. Of those, Kolkata had received 45 flights till Sunday, ferrying in 5,000-plus passengers.
Of those who have arrived in the city till date, around a dozen were found symptomatic and were sent to a state-run Covid hospital in New Town. Swab tests of most were negative. However, with no mandatory institutional quarantine required initially, there were concerns about asymptomatic carriers among passengers. Later, 14 days’ paid quarantine was made mandatory. On May 24, the mandatory paid quarantine period was scaled down to seven days.
There have, however, been issues with labourers flying in from Gulf countries being allowed home quarantine on economic grounds. On Thursday night, a large group of medical students, several of them from Bihar, also refused paid quarantine after arriving from Kyrgyzstan. The issue was raised by the chief minister on Friday evening, when she called for stringent adherence to quarantine rules. Later in the evening, chief secretary Rajiva Sinha wrote to the civil aviation ministry on the need to ensure that arriving passengers booked hotels for the week-long quarantine prior to boarding the flights to prevent any problems on arrival, failing which the state would withdraw its no-objection on international flight arrivals.
This isn’t the first time the CM has flagged the issue of foreign returnees. Prior to the lockdown, Banerjee had demanded flights — both international and domestic — be immediately suspended to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. In the initial days, those who had tested positive to Covid-19 had all contracted the virus abroad. International flights were finally suspended on March 22 and domestic flights three days later. The repatriation flights from abroad were allowed from May 7 while domestic flight operations resumed on May 25.