Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Spoke to Jaishankar to assist British nationals return from India: UK minister

London: UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that he had spoken to his Indian counterpart, S Jaishankar, among nearly 20 other foreign ministers over the weekend as he announced a new plan to charter special flights to bring back British nationals who find themselves stranded in the COVID-19 worldwide travel lockdown.

The senior UK Cabinet minister, who led the daily briefing from Downing Street, said the UK government had struck a deal with airlines to evacuate British nationals from certain priority countries where commercial routes are non-operational.

India will be among the priority countries after Raab said that the GBP 75-million government initiative would focus on countries where large numbers of British travellers find themselves stranded due to travel restrictions.

"This is the greatest global challenge in a generation. An unprecedented number of British people are trying to get home," said Raab, the second in command to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who remains in self-isolation after testing positive for coronavirus last week.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said charter flights are already up and running to Ghana and Tunisia, with India and South Africa to be added to the list this week.

"We are negotiating intensely with countries around the world to secure permissions for return flights where airspace has been closed," the FCO said.

Once special flights have been arranged, these will be promoted through the UK government''s travel advice and by the British Embassy or High Commission in the particular country.

British travellers who want a seat on the flight will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company.

"This is a worrying time for many British citizens travelling abroad. We''ve already worked with airlines and governments to enable hundreds of thousands to return home on commercial flights, and we will keep as many of those options open as possible," said Raab.

"Where commercial flights are not possible, we will build on the earlier charter flights we organised back from China, Japan, Cuba, Ghana and Peru. The arrangements agreed today will provide a clearer basis to organise special charter flights where Britons find themselves stranded. Our priority will always be the most vulnerable," he added.

These flights will be run by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet, among other airlines who have signed up to the deal.
30/03/20 Aditi Khanna/PTI/Outlook
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