New Delhi: The government on Sunday issued a fresh Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) for the return of Indians stranded abroad due to the coronavirus lockdown, saying it will be a paid service and preference will be given to people in distress including those who have lost their jobs and pregnant women.
A similar SOP was also issued by the government for those who are stranded in India and desire to travel abroad.
As per the latest SOP, all travellers will have to give an undertaking that they would undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days. It will be a seven-day paid institutional quarantine at their own cost, followed by seven days of isolation at home with self-monitoring of health.
Only for exceptional and compelling reasons such as cases of human distress, pregnancy, death in the family, serious illness and parent(s) accompanied by children below 10 years, as assessed by the receiving states, home quarantine may be permitted for 14 days and use of 'Aarogya Setu' app shall be mandatory in such cases, it said.
According to the SOP issued earlier by the home ministry on May 5, the institutional quarantine period was 14 days and another 14 days was for home quarantine while 'Aarogya Setu' app was mandatory for all international arrivals.
The fresh SOP said that the states and UTs can also develop their own protocol with regards to quarantine and isolation as per their assessment.
The government is currently undertaking a special operation under the name of 'Vande Bharat Mission' to bring back stranded Indians from more than 40 countries.
According to the fresh SOP, issued by the Union Home Ministry, those who wish to return to India will have to register themselves with the Indian missions in that country, along with necessary details as prescribed by the Ministry of External Affairs.
Priority will be given to compelling cases in distress, including migrant workers, labourers who have been laid off, short-term visa-holders facing expiry of visas, persons with a medical emergency, pregnant women, elderly, those required to return to India due to death of a family member, and students, the SOP said.
The cost of travel, as specified by the carrier, will be borne by such travellers, it said.
All those who will arrive from abroad will have to follow the guidelines for quarantine arrangements issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), the SOP said.
As per the Health Ministry guidelines, on arrival, thermal screening would be carried out in respect of all the passengers by the health officials present at the airport, seaport and landport.
The passengers found to be symptomatic during screening shall be immediately isolated and taken to the medical facility as per health protocol.
The remaining passengers shall be taken to suitable institutional quarantine facilities, to be arranged by the respective State and UT governments.
These passengers shall be kept under institutional quarantine for a minimum period of seven days. They shall be tested as per ICMR protocol. If they test positive, they shall be assessed clinically.
If they are assessed as mild cases, they will be allowed home isolation or isolated in the COVID Care Centre (both public and private facilities) as appropriate.
Those having moderate or severe symptoms will be admitted to dedicated COVID Health facilities and managed accordingly.
If found negative, they shall be advised to further isolate themselves at home and self-monitor their health for seven days.
In case, any symptoms develop they shall inform the district surveillance officer or the state/national call centre (1075).
Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said the SOP was issued as many Indians who had travelled to different countries before the nationwide lockdown for various purposes such as employment, studies, internships, tourism or business are stranded abroad.
He said due to their prolonged stay abroad, they are facing distress and wish to return. Besides, there are other Indian nationals who need to visit India due to medical emergencies or death of a family member.
The returnees will travel to India by non-scheduled commercial flights as allowed by Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) and ships as allowed by Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and Ministry of Shipping (MOS).
Only those crew and staff, who are tested COVID-19 negative, will be allowed to operate these flights and ships.
Based on the registrations received, the MEA will prepare flight and ship wise database of all such travellers, including details such as name, age, gender, mobile phone number, place of residence, place of final destination and information on RT-PCR test taken and its result.
This database will be shared by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) with the respective state and UT in advance.
The MEA will display with at least two days notice, the schedule (day, place and time of arrival) of the incoming flight and ship, on their online digital platform.
All travellers will also be required to give an undertaking that they are making the journey at their own risk.
Passengers arriving through the land borders will also have to undergo the same protocol as above, and only those who are asymptomatic will be enabled to cross the border into India.
According to the SOP for movement of persons stranded in India who wish to travel abroad, such persons will have to apply to Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) or to any agency designated by MoCA along with necessary details, including the places of departure and arrival, as prescribed by MoCA.
Persons shall be allowed to travel to the destination countries only if they are citizens of that country or hold a visa of at least one-year duration of that country or are a green card or OCI cardholder.
In cases of a medical emergency or a death in the family, Indian nationals holding six-month visa can also be allowed.
The travel from India shall be by on the non-scheduled commercial flights that are allowed by MoCA for bringing back stranded Indian nationals from abroad.
Indian seafarers and crew seeking to accept contracts to serve on vessels abroad can travel on the non-scheduled commercial flights departing from India under the 'Vande Bharat Mission' or other flights arranged by their employers subject to clearance given by the Ministry of Shipping.
Before the tickets of such persons are confirmed, the MoCA will ensure that the destination country allows entry of such persons in that country.
The conditions, if any, imposed by the destination country, will have to be fulfilled by the person intending to travel.
The cost of travel, as specified by the carrier, will be borne by such travellers.
A nationwide lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 for 21 days in a bid to combat the coronavirus pandemic. It was first extended till May 3 and again till May 17. The lockdown has now been extended till May 31.
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