New York, March 28 (IANS) The US government was arranging to airlift American citizens stuck in India because of the lockdown imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a State Department official.
Ian Brownlee, the official dealing with consular affairs, said on Friday: “We are working directly with both US and foreign carriers to lay on aircraft direct from India to the US,” to bring them back.
He said that the flights could start in about three days, “but it’s the permitting that takes a while both in India and the US”.
Last week, the State Department issued a “Level 4” travel alert advising its citizens not to travel internationally and asking those abroad to return home.
India is under a lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic with all commercial passenger flights cancelled.
Brownlee said that about 1,500 Americans in the New Delhi area, between 600 and 700 in the Mumbai area and 300 to 400 elsewhere had expressed interest in returning home.
He said that a church group has chartered a large aircraft to bring 150 or so Americans from India and the State Department was helping them get the necessary permits for the plane.
He said that an American citizen, who had tested positive for the virus in Bhutan, was brought back to the US about 10 days ago and “is doing very well”.
The principal deputy assistant secretary was briefing reporters about help for American citizens abroad affected by the pandemic and visas for doctors to come to the US.
Brownlee said that while routine visa services were suspended, visas would be processed for medical personnel already accepted in US programmes. But he added, “We are not going out looking for others.”
He said globally the State Department was looking about 33,000 citizens stranded abroad due to lockdowns and/or cancellation of flights who wanted help returning home.
Some Americans have decided to wait out the curfew or the quarantine where they are and many of them are expats with homes in the countries they are located in, the official added.