The US government is making arrangements to airlift over 2,000 American citizens stranded in India due to the suspension of flights and the lockdown in the country to limit the spread of the cornovirus pandemic, the State Department has said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a three-week lockdown in the country as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus that has claimed over 26,000 lives globally.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Ian Brownlee, Bureau of Consular Affairs on COVID-19, said that there were about 1,500 Americans in the New Delhi area, between 600 and 700 in the Mumbai area and 300 to 400 Americans elsewhere who have identified themselves.
"We are working with a multiplicity of options here. There is a church group that has chartered a large aircraft. We are facilitating the necessary permits for that aircraft. They're ready to take out 150 or so Americans. We are working directly with both US and foreign carriers to lay on aircraft direct from India to the United States," he said during a briefing on Friday.
"The permitting is what's complicated at the moment. We're ready to act on this, but it's the permitting that takes a while both in India and the United States. So we're hopeful, and I think with reason we are hopeful, that those flights will begin within several days, within about three days or so," he said.
He said the State Department was tracking 33,000 citizens stranded abroad due to lockdowns and/or cancellation of flights who wanted help returning home.
Earlier this week, the State Department said 50,000 were stuck overseas but that number might have been an overstatement because of clerical errors, according to Brownlee.
Some Americans have decided to wait out the curfew or the quarantine where they are and many of them are expats with homes in the countries they are located in, he said.
Michael and Whitney Saville from the US state of Georgia who had traveled to India, to adopt a child are among several Americans who are stranded in the country.
The couple wanted to adopt a baby since they were in college. With three boys of their own, they decided to pursue their dream two years ago.
They traveled to India at the beginning of March to bring their adopted daughter Grace home.
After getting Grace's passport, the were to return home on Thursday.
"They only gave us 48 hours' notice, WXIA-TV, an NBC-affiliated television station, quoted Whitney as saying.
We actually tried to get Mike a ticket to go home and be with our other children. But everything was booked.
Senator David Perdue's office said they've been in contact with the couple and are working with the embassy. Perdue is a Republican from Georgia.