Repatriation flights from UAE to India
The series of flights announced is expected to bring huge relief to stranded Indians Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Several thousands of Indian expats stuck back home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions will return to the UAE between July 12 and 26, after India and the UAE agreed to operate special flights for them for 15 days.

The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation on Thursday announced that repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission as well as charter flights by UAE carriers repatriating Indians from here can fly Indian expats with permits to return to the UAE on their route from India to the UAE.

The announcement has clarified that India has lifted the ban on UAE carriers chartering flights to India and the UAE has lifted the restrictions it had put on Vande Bharat flights from flying UAE residents stuck in India.

The arrangement was done by the Civil Aviation authorities of both the countries who came to an agreement “as part of the close strategic partnership between the governments of India and the UAE and with a view to assisting UAE resident nationals who are presently in India to return to the UAE,” the ministry said in a tweet.

“This arrangement will be initially in place for a period of 15 days i.e., from July 12 to 26 after which it will be reviewed as required,” it added.

Around 100 Vande Bharat flights operated by Air India and Air India Express are expected to fly in the UAE residents from India.

On Thursday, India announced 104 extra flights to repatriate stranded citizens in the UAE under phase four of the Vande Bharat Mission.

More than 18,400 Indian expats stranded by COVID-19 can be flown home from July 15 to 31 on these flights with each of them carrying 177 passengers excluding infants.

More than 130,000 Indians have so far been repatriated from flights approved by the Indian Consulate in Dubai alone, said Sanjeev Kumar, head of Chancery at the mission.

Flight bookings open

Air India Express opened the sale of tickets on India-UAE flights on Thursday.

A clause mentioned in the flyer attached to the Twitter announcement by the airline said that only UAE residents with permits to return from India can book flights.

Meanwhile, travel agencies in the UAE and India told Gulf News that they had opened ticket bookings for charter flights from India to the UAE.

“Two UAE carriers had put out a tentative schedule. They announced some schedules for which they were waiting for clearance,” said Santhosh Cheriyan, general manager of Akbar Travels of India, Middle East.

Afi Ahmed, owner of Smart Travels, said the agencies were able to get confirmation for the bookings on the UAE carriers and started issuing PNR numbers to the passengers by Thursday evening.

Labs for COVID-19 tests

Meanwhile, the UAE Ambassador to India Dr Ahmad Abdul Rahman Al Banna clarified that the UAE will accept COVID-19 negative certificates issued by laboratories doing RT/PCR tests authorised by the Indian government for allowing entry to expats returning from India.

These results should be obtained not more than 96 hours before departure, he told Gulf News.

“The UAE authorities have said they (UAE residents wishing to return from India] should have ICA or GDRFA approval and should carry the RT/PCR lab test result showing they tested negative for coronavirus. The labs approved by the Indian authorities will suffice for the test,” the envoy said, ending confusion among thousands of expats about the labs from which they should get the certificate.

Just in time for the expats preparing to return on special flights from July 12, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has revealed the full list of laboratories in India doing Real-Time RT PCR and TrueNat/ CBNAAT tests for coronavirus infection.

According to ICMR there are currently 1,132 labs in India testing for COVID-19. Of these 603 laboratories are doing RT/PCR for COVID-19. As many as 373 of these are government hospitals and the rest are private facilities.