Coronavirus: UAE and India extend special flights for another week

The decision allows Indians to fly home and UAE residents stuck abroad to return to the Emirates

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Talks are under way over the return of regular flights between India and the UAE, after a 15-day travel window was extended to allow stranded Indian residents back to the Emirates.

The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority said an update would be given to the public once discussions were completed. A 15-day travel pact allowing flights between India and the UAE ended on Sunday.

Pavan Kapoor, India’s ambassador to the UAE, said flights will continue for another seven days while a new agreement was worked out.

"It has been extended at least for another week," Mr Kapoor told The National.

“The idea is that we keep it going, so time has been given while we come to an agreement for the way forward.”

The air corridor, once announced, would not cover transit passengers and will be restricted to people whose final destination was either the UAE or India.

Once the air corridor starts, I'm hoping more people can get back to their lives in the UAE

Bookings opened on Monday for flights from the UAE to India – as part of the fifth phase of the Vande Bharat or Salute India government-led mission.

More than 100 repatriation flights will take Indian citizens home from the Emirates between August 1 to 15.

About 75 flights will operate from Dubai and Sharjah and 30 services from Abu Dhabi. Destinations include Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Jaipur, Amritsar, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kochi.

Air India Express said Indian citizens registered with the diplomatic missions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were able to book via the airline’s website or through registered UAE travel agents from Monday.

Close to 210,000 Indians have been repatriated from the UAE since May 7.

An estimated 10,000 have travelled back to the Emirates over the past few weeks with double that number hoping to return.

Sushant Dalai is back in the UAE with his wife Priyanka Priyadarshini after flights were allowed to operate from India to the Emirates over the past two weeks. The newly weds were separated for five months when both countries shut borders in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Courtesy: Sushant Dalai

UAE residents who were in India when borders closed in March have appealed for more flights and a quicker approvals process to allow them to return to the Emirates.

They said booking sites often listed flights as sold out or routes were cancelled after bookings were made.

There has also been some confusion over whether a Covid-19 PCR test must be obtained from a UAE-affiliated Pure Health facility. The National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority has since confirmed a PCR test conducted by an accredited lab in the country of departure would also be accepted.

It was a close shave for Sushant Dalai, an engineer at an Abu Dhabi metals company, who received his test result while waiting to depart from New Delhi airport.

Mr Dalai, 32, took the test in his home town in Bhubaneshwar, in eastern India, before flying to Delhi to take an Emirates flight back to Dubai.

Tests must be valid for 72 hours before travel.

“It was really very tight and I had to reschedule a flight because the lab was shut on Sunday and it takes 24 hours to get the result,” said Mr Dalai, who lives in Dubai and required clearance from the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship to travel.

“I’m relieved now but it has been a difficult time. Once the air bubble starts, I’m hoping more people can get back to their lives in the UAE.

“I have 18 friends and colleagues who went to India for their annual vacation in March and are waiting for approvals.”

Some residents have spent thousands to buy seats on private jets or travelled lengthy routes via the UK to return to the Emirates.

Mr Dalai returned to his wife last week after five months abroad. He had gone to India because his father was in hospital with complications due to high blood pressure in March.

“We were newly married in September so it has been really difficult for my wife. She was lonely because this is her first time abroad and she has no friends or relatives here,” he said.

“Our companies have been supportive. People just want to return to their jobs and their family.”