Nearly 200 Indian nationals, who have been stranded in South Africa for over four months due to COVID-19 lockdown, are overjoyed at heading home at a much lower cost than compatriots who returned on earlier flights.
India Club, a South African socio-cultural association of mainly Indian expatriates, arranged the third such flight in association with Emirates Airlines, which subsidised the overall cost per economy seat to 11,500 Rand, as compared to the 17,750 rand on the earlier flights.
About 80 passengers will fly on to destinations in south India and the rest will head for their homes in central and north India. There were earlier three Vande Bharat flights arranged by the Indian High Commission and its Consulate in Johannesburg, resulting in almost all Indian nationals in the country now being repatriated.
After the special Emirates flight that India Club had arranged from Johannesburg to Bengaluru earlier this month, we started getting more requests from stranded Indians to arrange another special flight, said Prashant Siddapur, General Secretary of India Club. Our dedicated team of volunteers, as usual, put their hands up without hesitation.
Our flagship annual event is the India Day Festival, around August 15, which cannot take place this years because of the COVID-19 restrictions, so arranging these repatriation flights for stranded Indians and seeing the joy on people's faces, has given our team immense satisfaction in another way, he said. Many of the passengers on this latest flight had been affected by job losses and layoffs cutting across different sectors amid the rapidly increasing unemployment in South Africa due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
One of the passengers, who recently lost his job, was very homesick and he desperately wanted to meet his three-year old daughter back home. He had not seen her since more than two years. The passenger was very emotional and said to me that this COVID-19 situation has taught us the importance of family bonding and he would never take this privilege for granted Siddapur said. All passengers, who had to be cleared by the Indian missions, had to undergo mandatory RABT COVID-19 tests before boarding and will also follow the quarantine rules prescribed by the Government of India and state governments after they land in Mumbai.
India Club Project Director Mayur Akole said although there had not been any further requests yet, a further flight would be considered if it proved to be necessary.