India will mount a huge air and sea mission to bring hundreds of thousands of citizens home using charter flights and naval warships.
The government said embassies were preparing priority lists ahead of the operation's launch on Thursday, May 7.
Officials will draw up a list of "distressed Indian citizens" including tourists stranded overseas and expat workers who have lost their jobs.
Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s civil aviation minister, said 64 commercial flights are set to bring 15,000 citizens from 12 countries home from May 7-13. Half are expected to be operated from the Gulf.
At least 10 flights are planned for Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah and will each take 200 passengers.
Two Air India flights, from Abu Dhabi to Kochi and Dubai to Kozhikode, were scheduled for Thursday. There will be a further two from Dubai to Chennai on day two, from Sharjah to Lucknow on day three, from Abu Dhabi to Hyderabad on day four.
The schedule continues with one flight from Dubai to Kochi on day five, two flights to Delhi on day six and one flight to Amritsar on day seven.
Priority passengers include about 20 Indian citizens stranded in the transit area at Dubai International Airport and tourists who were in the Emirates when borders closed on March 19, embassy officials said.
At least 200,000 Indian citizens in UAE had registered to return home with the embassy as of Tuesday, India's consul general Vipul confirmed. About 25 per cent cited job loss as the reason.
“The flights will be filled up from people on the database. The registration process is still on. People can register on the website," said Vipul, Indian consul general in Dubai.
In addition to flights, several Indian naval warships have been deployed to take Indians home. Indian media reported that the INS Magar was sailing for the Maldives and INS Shardul was heading for Dubai.
Defence officials confirmed to the The National that naval vessels were being readied but said their destinations were not confirmed yet.
The journey by sea from Mumbai to the Gulf takes about three days and each ship could take 250-300 passengers once social distancing rules were in effect.
“Our ships are on standby and in a position to reach the ports required,” a navy spokesman said.
“We have not yet got clear confirmation of the ports and this is being worked out with the countries involved.”
Earlier, the embassy urged people to patient as the government "undertakes this massive task of repatriation of Indian nationals".
“Given that the embassy/consulate has received almost 200,000 registrations for travelling back, it will take time for all the people to be accommodated and on these flights.”
In a statement on Monday night, the Delhi government said flights "would be made available on payment-basis" without stating prices.
"Medical screening of passengers would be done before taking the flight. Only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel," the government's Press Information Bureau said.
Tickets for repatriation flights to India will be kept as low as possible, as minister in Kerala's state government said.
KT Jaleel told The National that flights from the Gulf to the southern state would be capped at Dh630, as ordered by authorities in Delhi.
He estimated about half of the 200,000 registered are Keralites.
"It will take three to four months to get people back. We are ready to receive them all and have made preparations in government quarantine facilities and private hospitals for anyone who shows even the slightest sign of Covid-19," he said.
"The rest will be sent home to be under strict quarantine."
He said a command centre has been set up to monitor thousands of people in quarantine from home.
“Every morning and evening they will be called by health officers from a central Covid control room. This is how we will keep checking their health status. If there is any change, they will be taken immediately into hospital," he said.
He said 450,000 Keralites had registered as wishing to return home, including many from the Gulf - though he expected many would want to go back once the situation improves.
“Of those who want to come back, about 100,000 say they are jobless,” he said.
“People are out of jobs because shops were closed, companies stopped work, projects wound up. But we don’t consider these people to be permanently without jobs. Once the situation improves, companies will want them to return.”
Consular officials in Dubai said they had begun calling people to update them about the Thursday flights. Passengers would receive emails with the Air India ticket information or a unique reference number to be submitted at the airport.
India suspended international flights on March 22 and has extended its domestic lockdown until May 17. Travel between states is closed.
Passengers can register for repatriation on the Aarogya Setu app .
People with queries can call the embassy’s Covid-19 helpline (050-899-5583), call consulate's helplines (056-546-3903 and 054-309-0575) or email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.