11:25 GMT27 January 2021
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    New Delhi (Sputnik): With the COVID-19 pandemic having spread to nearly 200 countries, the movement of people across the globe has come to a halt as part of a collective effort to stay home and safe so that the spread of the virus can be contained. However, it has also resulted in people being stranded in foreign lands, awaiting repatriation.

    In order to bring back thousands of Indians stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, India kicked off a massive repatriation operation titled the "Vande Bharat Mission" on Thursday.

    Two Air India Express special flights, carrying over 300 Indians from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, landed in Kerala state on Thursday. The flights arrived in the southern Indian state's Kochi and Kozhicode cities respectively.

    Visuals from inside the Abu Dhabi-Kochi flight showed the state-run carrier's crew getting ready to take off and chanting "hip hip hurray" while expressing their pleasure at being a part of the mission. All the crew members, donning PPE gear from head to toe, introduced themselves one by one.

    ​"We feel extremely proud and privileged to be present in Air India Express to carry out [the] first evacuation under Vande Bharat Mission from Abu-Dhabi to Kochi", said one of the crew members.

    Similarly, another repatriation flight from Singapore carrying more than 200 Indians on board landed in India on Friday. More flights that have left to evacuate Indians from Singapore are scheduled to arrive in India later on Friday.

    Navy Pitches In

    Not just flights, but Navy ships have also been deployed in "Operation Samudra Setu" (Sea Bridge). The Indian Navy's INS Jalashwa has been deployed to repatriate around 750 Indians from Male in the Maldives to Kochi city in India.

    Videos show health workers waiting at the sample collection and screening kiosk put up at the Male dock, where the ship docked on Thursday. After being screened, the passengers will be allowed to board the INS Jalashwa.

    ​The Indian government earlier this week announced it would undertake a phased exercise from 7 May to bring back stranded Indians from 12 countries, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the Maldives, Singapore, and the US.

    It was stated that 64 flights would be operated until 13 May to repatriate around 15,000 Indian nationals stuck overseas due the COVID-19-induced lockdown restrictions. 


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