The Indian government on Monday said it will start bringing back Indians stranded abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic from May 7. The exercise would be conducted in a phased manner and the passengers will have to pay for their travel, the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.

The passengers would use aircraft and naval ships, the statement said, adding that only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel. “Indian Embassies and High Commissions are preparing a list of distressed Indian citizens,” the government said. “This facility would be made available on payment-basis. Non-scheduled commercial flights would be arranged for air travel.”

The ministry added that a standard operating protocol had been prepared. “Medical screening of passengers would be done before taking the flight,” the government said. “During the journey, all these passengers would have to follow the protocols, such as the Health Protocols, issued by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Civil Aviation.”

On reaching the destination, all passengers must register on the government’s Aarogya Setu application. The mobile application, launched on April 2, is meant to alert users if they have come in contact with a Covid-19 positive patient, and what measures they need to take in case that happens.

“Everyone would be medically screened,” the home ministry statement added. “After scrutiny, they would be quarantined for 14 days, either in a hospital or in an institutional quarantine on payment-basis, by the concerned state government. Covid test would be done after 14 days and further action would be taken according to health protocols.”

The ministry also asked states to make arrangements for testing, quarantining and onward movement of the returning Indians.

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The Indian government had evacuated hundreds of Indian citizens from places such as China, Japan, Italy and Iran in March before the government closed the borders and all air travel. On April 30, the Indian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates and the United States began online registration to contact Indian nationals who are stranded in the two countries because of the lockdown. Last month, Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan urged citizens who are stranded abroad to be patient till May 3.

The Centre’s move came at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government and Opposition parties are engaged in a war of words over the Centre’s decision to charge migrant workers for providing special trains home amid the nationwide lockdown. The Congress said it will pay the fares, while the Centre and BJP claimed that the government has already subsidised 85% of the fares and that states will pay the rest. This is despite an official circular directing states to collect the fares and hand it over to the Railways.

India’s coronavirus tally reached 42,836 cases on Monday, when the country began the third phase of a nationwide lockdown with fewer restrictions. The toll rose to 1,389.

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