Over 20 lakh Indians have returned from abroad after the government launched the 'Vande Bharat' evacuation mission on May 7 in view of the coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday. Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said under phase seven of the mission, operational since Oct. 1, as many as 1,057 international flights would have been operated.
"We have started our internal preparations for the next phase," he said at an online briefing. As on Thursday, 20.55 lakh Indians have been repatriated through different modes of the Vande Bharat Mission through Air India, private and foreign carriers, chartered flights, naval ships and land border crossings, he said.
These flights under the current phase include those from among the 18 countries with which India has a bilateral 'air bubble' arrangement in place, he said. The arrangement has been working satisfactorily and has added to the capacity, he said.
About the air bubble arrangement with Bangladesh, he said it was agreed during the joint consultative commission held between the foreign ministers of both countries on Sept. 29, that air bubble flights will be initiated to meet the requirement of travellers of the two sides.
The bilateral air bubble has been operationalised from Wednesday. Two flights of the U.S.-Bangla airline flying Dhaka-Kolkata and Dhaka-Chennai sectors were operated on Oct. 28, he said. The inaugural flight was flagged off jointly by the High Commissioner and Chairman, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh and Chief Executive Officer of U.S.-Bangla Airlines, he said.
"This air bubble has been operationalised to cater to the travel needs of nationals on both the sides, particularly catering to the urgent medical requirements of Bangladesh nationals visiting India for treatment," Srivastava said.
"All visas, except the tourist ones, are being issued by the High Commission of India in Dhaka and our four Assistant High Commissions in Bangladesh. In the next few days, major Indian and Bangladesh airlines will commence flight operations between the two countries," he said.