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Operation Samudra Setu: India's first ship carrying 698 repatriated expats arrive in Kerala

Indian Navy personnel unload supplies to be used in relief operations from INS Jalashwa in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/APPremium
Indian Navy personnel unload supplies to be used in relief operations from INS Jalashwa in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena/AP

  • Out of the 505 total recorded infections in the state, except 17 active cases and 3 casualties, remaining 484 have recovered
  • A second ship of the Indian navy, INS Magar, is also scheduled to arrive in from the Maldives for Kochi later on Sunday

ERNAKULAM : Indian Navy's INS Jalashwa on Sunday arrived at Kochi Harbour (Ernakulam district) bringing back 698 expats stranded in Male, Maldives.

It is the Indian Navy's first massive evacuation exercise amid the covid outbreak and part of 'Samudra Setu' program under the Vande Bharat mission to rescue stranded Indians, billed as the world's largest repatriation activity.

It is also the largest lot of expat arriving at Kerala in a single day. The numbers of returnees are expected to rise even more by the end of the day. A second ship of the Indian navy, INS Magar, is also scheduled to arrive in from the Maldives for Kochi later on Sunday. Separately, Cargo and passenger ship, MV Arabian Sea also arrived from Lakshadweep carrying 121 passengers in Kochi.

Three more flights— two from Doha and one from Kuala Lumpur— are also supposed to bring in hundreds of stranded expats to Kerala by Sunday evening. This is followed by nearly half a dozen flights that carried thousands of people in the last two days, with most returnees quarantined in Kerala, which may trigger the rise of the next wave of infections in the state. Kerala had become one of the few Indian states to successfully flattened the virus curve so far.

Two people brought back in the ship INS Jalashwa were admitted to a local hospital after they developed covid-19 symptoms, the state police said.

Out of the 505 recorded infections, except 17 active infections and 3 casualties, all the rest have recovered in Kerala till Saturday. The state had brought down the number of active infections from 300 a month ago to 30 on Wednesday. All of this stands to change with the expat returnees. Kerala, though, has welcomed expats wholeheartedly and expects a rise in infections. 'We should be more careful now than ever before," said Kerala's chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Saturday.

The returnees also face a social crisis back home. A total of 633 out of the 698 people returned from the Maledives, majority of them migrant labourers, have reportedly lost jobs over the financial fallout of the covid-19 pandemic. In view of the health risk they pose, the state had set in place a protocol to facilitate their deboarding.

After arriving the ship arrived at the Cruise Terminal of the Cochin Port Trust, they were segregated and screened for fever and other covid-19 symptoms, before deboarded, the local police said. Inspector-General of Police in Ernakulam, Vijay Sakhare, had earlier said that as many as 440 people in the ship are from Kerala. They will be transported to their home districts in state-run buses, following social distancing and other health protocols and accompanied by the police, said the police. But, they will be placed in compulsory institutional quarantine for 14 days. Those from other states will be quarantined in Ernakulam for the next 14 days. The state had prepared over three lakh isolation beds for the purpose across districts in anticipation of the returnees.

India is operating eight flights as part of Vande Bharat Mission on Sunday. These are from London to Mumbai, Singapore to Mumbai, Riyadh to Delhi, Doha to Cochin, Kuwait to Chennai, Kaulalumpur to Cochin, Doha to Trivandrum and London to Delhi. Out of this, the flights from London, Singapore and Doha reached early in the morning and the rest are expected to land at night. In total, India is planning to return nearly 15000 expats in 64 flights in a week since last Thursday.

In addition, 21 Indians returned from Uzbekistan in another special flight.

"INSJalashwa hs arrivd in Kochi wth the 1st batch of 698 Indians frm Maldives. Thank @indiannavy @DefenceMinIndia & Kerala Govt fr support&cooperation. Excellent work by HC @sunjaysudhir &his Team @HCIMaldives. Now on to the next one!" tweeted S Jaishankar, India's External Affairs Minister.

INS Magar, Indian Navy said in a statement, arrived at Male Port on 10 May. "The ship will evacuate about 200 citizens while ensuring all precautions related to covid-19 including social distancing norms are followed. An entirely separate section of the ship with essential facilities like food and washrooms has been prepared to accommodate the evacuees and a separate mess has been allotted for ladies, infants and senior citizens. Additional precautions have been taken by dividing the evacuees into groups to avoid crowding at common areas like dining hall, bathrooms etc." the statement said.

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