Jets to Dubai in demand to escape covid horror in India

Agencies
April 29, 2021

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Dubai, Apr 29: Indians from the millions-strong expat community in the UAE, stranded in their homeland during a catastrophic coronavirus surge, are swamping private jet operators with requests to whisk them back to safety.

Fearing a prolonged flight ban between India and the Gulf state, they aim to use an exemption for private business planes that was in effect last year during the first wave of the global crisis.

An estimated 3.5 million Indians live and work in the United Arab Emirates.

The latest suspension in flights that came into force Sunday has shut down some 300 commercial flights that operated weekly on one of the world's busiest air corridors.

Apart from low-paid labourers on short-term contracts, the sudden move has stranded members of long-settled wealthy families who travelled to India for holidays, work or on medical emergencies.

Many are now in a panic as cases in India skyrocket, with 18 million infections and more than 201,000 people dead, and the daily fatality toll rising above 3,000 for the first time on Wednesday.

T. Patel, a businessman living in Dubai, is working frantically to bring back his brother's wife and three children, currently stuck in Bangalore.

"I am exploring the private jet option. It is a lot of money but if I have no other way of bringing them back, then I will go for it," he said.

After the UAE shut its airspace to curb the spread of coronavirus in March last year, some residents raised the funds for seats on shared chartered planes that were permitted to fly to Dubai.

Patel paid $10,500 to get his parents and niece to Dubai, nearly 20 times the cost of regular tickets.

"I waited for two months and finally hired a private jet for $42,000, the cost of which was shared by a few equally desperate residents," he said.

Dozens of charter flights zipped passengers from India to Dubai in the days before the new ban, after all commercial seats were snapped up, and charter companies say demand has since surged.

A 13-seat jet flying from Mumbai to Dubai costs between $35,000 and $38,000, around 35 times the price of a regular ticket. Prices from other cities are even higher.

But as demand soars, operators have been scrambling to clarify rules around private planes landing in the UAE.

"Chartered flights need to get approval from the General Civil Aviation Authority and the foreign ministry to operate. But we do not know who is exempted to travel," said Tapish Khivensra, CEO of Enthral Aviation Private Jet Charter.

Civil aviation has said UAE nationals, diplomats, official delegations and "businessmens' planes" are excluded from the ban, provided passengers observe measures including a 10-day quarantine.

Long-term Dubai resident Purushothaman Nair said he was prepared to "spend a fortune" to return to the UAE.

"My wife and I came to India for just 10 days. We have to fly back to Dubai at any cost," he told AFP.

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"There are many people who are willing to pay up. How can people with business interests and big responsibilities in the UAE afford to stay away for a longer period?" said Nair, who works in the government sector.

"The fear of contracting the virus is a bigger worry."

The less well-off are weighing the high cost against the risk of losing their livelihoods.

"If I cannot make it in a few weeks, my job is on the line. My employer is already putting pressure on me and asking me to travel to the UAE via other countries," Jameel Mohammed told AFP.

Mohammed had not seen his young son for two years when he was granted leave in March.

He was thrilled at the prospect of a reunion but is now stranded in the southern state of Kerala.

"I can't afford that kind of money. But if the choice is between losing my job and borrowing money, I will do the latter and fly back."

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Agencies
May 1,2021

Sydney, May 1: Australian residents and citizens who have been in India within 14 days of the date they plan to return home will be banned from entering Australia as of Monday and those who disobey will face fines and jail, government officials said.

The temporary emergency determination, issued late on Friday, is the first time Australia has made it a criminal offence for its citizens to return home.

The move is part of strict measures to stop travellers to Australia from the world's second most populous nation as it contends with a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The restrictions come into effect from May 3 and breaching the ban risks civil penalties and up to five years imprisonment, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement.

"The government does not make these decisions lightly," Hunt said." However, it is critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level."

The government will reconsider the restrictions on May 15.

India's coronavirus death count passed 200,000 this week, and cases are nearing 19 million as virulent new strains have combined with "super-spreader" events such as political rallies and religious festivals.

Neela Janakiramanan, an Australian surgeon with family in India said the decision to "criminalise" Australians returning from India was disproportionate and overly punitive.

"Indian-Australians are seeing this as a racist policy because we are being treated different than people from other countries who have had similar waves of infection like the U.S., the UK and Europe. It is very hard to feel anything other than targeted as an ethnic group."

Human rights groups also voiced indignation at the ban, suggesting the government's focus should be on improving its quarantine system, not on punishment.

"This is an outrageous response. Australians have a right of return to their own country," Human Rights Watch's Australia director, Elaine Pearson said in a statement.

"The government should be looking for ways to safely quarantine Australians returning from India, instead of focusing their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments."

Australia, which has no community transmissions, on Tuesday introduced a temporary suspension of direct flights from India until mid-May. However, some Australians, including cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, returned via Doha.

Tuesday's move had left over 9,000 Australians stranded in India, 650 of whom are registered as vulnerable, officials said.

Australia has all but stamped out the coronavirus after closing its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents in March 2020, recording just 29,800 cases and 910 deaths. 

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News Network
April 28,2021

Guwahati / New Delhi, Apr 28: An earthquake of magnitude 6.4 struck Assam this morning, the National Center for Seismology said. Strong tremors were felt in parts of the northeast as well as north Bengal. While are there are no reports of anyone being injured, photos have emerged of broken walls and windows, and walls developing cracks.

Strong tremors were repeatedly felt in several parts of the northeast and neighbouring Bhutan, forcing people to run out of their homes, according to a Reuters witness.

The epicentre of the earthquake was near Dhekiajuli town, 140 km (86 miles) north of Guwahati. The earthquake struck at 7:51 am at a depth of 17 km from the surface.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he spoke with Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and promised help from the centre.

"Big earthquake hits Assam. I pray for the well being of all and urge everyone to stay alert. Taking updates from all districts," Mr Sonowal tweeted.

Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who tweeted minutes after the earthquake, also shared photos of broken walls inside a building and of a broken boundary wall, showing the impact of the quake.

The earthquake in Assam comes weeks after an earthquake of magnitude 5.4 struck near Sikkim's capital Gangtok.

The National Disaster Management Agency was assessing reports of destruction and casualties, if any, after the quake, said an official at the agency who asked to remain unidentified, sources said.

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News Network
May 4,2021

Bengaluru, May 4: A startling fact that emerged out of the Chamarajanagar tragedy is the absence of an oxygen bottling plant in several districts. As many as nine districts of Karnataka - Gadag, Chikkaballapur, Chitradurga, Bidar, Yadgir, Chamarajanagar, Kodagu, Mandya and Udupi rely on neighbouring districts for oxygen in the absence of a dedicated plant.

This increased dependency on neighbouring districts has led to uncertainty in supply as logistical issues like distance, time, condition of oxygen tankers and breakdowns have affected the timely delivery of oxygen. 

Chitradurga, for example, relies on oxygen supply on Davangere. Chitradurga DHO Dr Palaksha C L, said, "We have a storage capacity of 6,200 litres at the district hospital. Even then we need oxygen refilling every alternate day from Southern Gases in Davangere. We've got 60 jumbo cylinders and another 90 donated by NGOs."

Surprisingly, Yadgir district hospital gets 2,500 litres of oxygen all the way from Chennai. The oxygen is transported from Praxair company in Chennai to Ballari and then to Yadgir, said district health officer Dr Indumati Kamshetty. "The entire district needs 5,000 litres per day. While private hospitals get it from the Kalaburagi district, we get it twice a week from Chennai via Ballari. We do not have the luxury of waiting till some hours of oxygen is left so we get a refill when there's a buffer stock of two to three days as it takes days to travel and reach here," she said.

Mandya District Health Officer Dr Manche Gowda said they rely on Mysuru for the supply. While Mandya Medical College has a 13 kilolitres capacity, Adichunchanagiri Institute of Medical Sciences has another 13 kilolitres, Sanjo Hospital has two kilolitres storage. "We get a refill three to four times a day if there's a requirement. While the government hospitals alone require 350 jumbo cylinders, we need 500 per day," Gowda said.

Karnataka's oxygen allocation has been increased from 802 metric tonnes per day to 865 metric tonnes per day. But the state requires 1,471 tonnes of oxygen. A total of 675 metric tonnes of oxygen out of 815 produced in the state go to the consumers in the state, the rest 140 tonnes are sent to other states. Karnataka also procures 130 tonnes from other states.

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