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Coronavirus: Confusing flight restrictions leave several Indians stranded in transit in Europe

Last Updated 21 March 2020, 18:27 IST

Even as India is set to bar arrival of all passengers onboard international commercial passenger aircraft from foreign destinations after 01:30 a.m. on Monday, a large number of its citizens got stranded in transit in the airports in Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London and other places – mostly due to confusion over implementation of the curbs imposed earlier this week in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An Air India aircraft, which left New Delhi for Rome on Saturday, is scheduled to return with over 262 Indian citizens from Italy early in the morning on Sunday. The Embassy of India in Tashkent arranged an Uzbek Airlines aircraft to evacuate 121 Indian citizens, who had been stranded in transit at the airport in the capital of the Central Asian nation.

Three students of Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) – Anshul Gupta, Khushbu and Gagan Saiprasad – got stranded in transit at the Charles de Galle Airport in Paris while returning from Costa Rica after participating in a student exchange programme. The Air France cancelled the flight from Paris to New Delhi – apparently due to wrong interpretations of the travel restrictions imposed by the Government of India.

The Embassy of India intervened and the IIMB arranged for tickets for the three students on another flight. “They landed in Mumbai around 3 pm on Saturday & are now on their way to their respective homes. Home quarantine has been advised,” the IIMB posted on Twitter.

A KLM Royal Dutch Airlines aircraft, which flew from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam with 117 Indian transit passengers from the United States, Mexico and Canada onboard, had to fly back after it was denied permission to land in New Delhi early on Saturday. The aircraft was not allowed to land apparently due to confusion over implementation of the travel restrictions, which were brought into force earlier, but were applicable only on passengers from Europe, not on the ones transiting through Europe. The passengers onboard the aircraft included several elderly persons and a pregnant woman.

“We were 117 on board from amsterdam (Amsterdam) to delhi (Delhi) and (the) flight took a U turn back to amsterdam (Amsterdam) when we were half way through. We request Indian government to help us get out from here as soon as possible,” Aditya Arora, one of the passengers on the KLM flight, posted on Facebook, drawing the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In a video posted on Twitter, another passenger speaking on behalf of the others from the Schiphol Airport said that although the KLM was sending aircraft from Amsterdam to New Delhi to evacuate citizens of Netherlands from India, the Indian transit passengers were not being allowed to book seats on the flights. The Embassy of India in Amsterdam purportedly assured them a special aircraft would be arranged to evacuate them.

Sources said late in the evening on Saturday that arrangements had been made to fly the Indian citizens stranded in transit at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam to New Delhi on Sunday.

“We are aware that our citizens got stranded in transit in several airports in Europe, mainly in Paris, Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt. They are Indian nationals and were traveling to India from countries like the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Brazil,” Dammu Ravi, Additional Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), said on Saturday. “This might have happened due to gap in interpretation on the part of the carriers (on the restrictions that the Government of India imposed on arrival of aircraft from foreign destinations),'' said Ravi, who has been assigned to coordinate on behalf of the MEA with other ministries of the Union Government on the response to Covid-19 outbreak. “We are working on the logistics to sort out the problem within the next two or three days,” he added, indicating that New Delhi might continue to either make special arrangements to evacuate the citizens stranded in transit or to relax the restrictions to allow commercial aircraft to bring them home even after Monday.

The Government has already announced that no scheduled international commercial passenger aircraft should take off from any foreign airport for an airport in India after 5:30 a.m. (IST- Indian Standard Time) on Sunday till the same time on March 29.

The Government set 20 hours as the maximum permissible travel time for all aircraft taking off from foreign airports to reach destinations in India. Hence, no passenger would be allowed to disembark from a scheduled international commercial passenger aircraft in any airport in India after 1:30 a.m. on Monday.

But some international carriers have been wrongly interpreting the restrictive measure, which New Delhi would impose from early in the morning on Monday. They have been refusing to fly transit passengers from airports in Europe onward to any airport in India. This resulted in many Indians, including students, being stranded in transit in airports in Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam and Paris.

Several Indian citizens were stranded in transit at the airport Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris over the past two days. The Embassy of India in Paris on Saturday advised them early on Saturday to take Qatar Airways connecting flights to New Delhi via Doha. The Indian nationals, who boarded the Qatar Airways flight from Paris, are expected to arrive in New Delhi shortly after 2:00 a.m. on Sunday after a three-hour layover in Doha.

New Delhi earlier barred entry of any passengers — foreign nationals or citizens of India— coming from the 27 European Union countries as well as the United Kingdom and Turkey between March 18 and March 31, as it stepped up its endeavour to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Besides, India also closed its doors earlier this week for its citizens as well as foreign nationals coming from Afghanistan, Philippines and Malaysia.

The restrictions were not applicable on the passengers coming from the US, Canada, Mexico and Brazil and transiting through Europe. But confusion over its implementation resulted in several Indian nationals being stranded in transit in the airports in Paris, Frankfurt, London and Amsterdam as well as in denial of permission to the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight to land in Delhi early on Saturday.

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(Published 21 March 2020, 15:26 IST)

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