British Columbia

6 flights set to repatriate Canadians stuck in India due to COVID-19

The first of six flights to repatriate some of the 15,000 Canadian passport-holders stranded in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic is scheduled to leave Delhi on Saturday.

Estimated price per ticket is $2,900, according to an email from Global Affairs Canada

An Indian woman pleads in front of a policeman to let her pass a checkpoint on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, on Thursday, amid a travel ban imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Atlaf Qadri/The Associated Press)

The first of six flights to repatriate some of the 15,000 Canadian passport-holders stranded in India due to the COVID-19 pandemic is scheduled to leave Delhi on Saturday.

The cost per ticket is estimated at $2,900, available on a first-come, first-served basis, according to an email from Global Affairs Canada.

The special flights will connect through London, and are available to citizens and immediate family members who are permanent residents of Canada, who hold a valid permanent resident card and who will be accompanying the Canadian citizen on the flight.

Nav Jhawer has applied to get his mother and father home on one of the flights after three previous return bookings fell through amid India's total travel and airspace lockdown. 

"I've been worried a fair amount," he said. "I said to them the most important thing is you have to keep yourself healthy so you can get on a flight." 

Jhawer says mother his Parkash, 66, and father Surinder, 72, of Campbell River, B.C., are snowbirds who spend winters in the Punjab in northern India.

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He says the $2,900 price tag is steep but he is more worried about those who may not be able to afford it. 

"At the end of the day, I made the decision that my parents need to be home," he said. "But think about a family of four who are already stressed or with parents who could be laid off from work."

One flight per day is scheduled to leave Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi starting Saturday through next Tuesday.

Two additional flights will depart from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai, the first on Saturday and another next Tuesday. 

Jhawer says he's waiting to hear the details of how his parents will make the eight-hour trip to Delhi if their application is accepted, considering the sweeping travel ban that's in place. 

"At this point, I would hope all those little pieces have been thought through," he said. 

CBC News asked Global Affairs Canada for more information on the repatriation flights but hadn't heard back at the time of publication.

Financial concerns

Surrey resident Ravi Gill started the Facebook group, "Bring Canadians home from Punjab" to provide support to family and friends who are trying to help people come home or for people who have found themselves stuck in India.

"My father is there. My uncles, and aunt who are all over 65 are over there," said Gill.

More than 900 people joined the group in the week after India closed its airspace to incoming flights, meaning commercial flights back to Canada were cancelled.

Gill said news of the repatriation fights is bittersweet.

"It's good news but very disappointing as well."

The federal government is offering a five thousand dollar emergency loan for people who qualify to pay for ticket costs.

Gill said he hopes Ottawa will do more to help people who may also be coming back to shaky employment or no job.

"There's families there of two, three, four, five people so having them to pay for this ticket upfront I think is not fair at this moment for the families."

Still, Global Affairs is warning Canadians that while India is under lockdown until April 14, new Indian government measures and or clarifications could be announced with little warning.

With files from Anita Bathe, Meera Bains