Warship from Maldives with virus evacuees arrives in India

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The warship INS Jalashwa carrying 698 Indians from the Maldives capital of Male arrived at Cochin port on the southwestern coast of India

A navy ship carrying evacuees from the Maldives arrived in India Sunday as part of a massive effort to bring home hundreds of thousands of nationals stranded overseas due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Workers and students were unable to return home after India banned all incoming international flights in late March as part of the world's biggest lockdown to combat the spread of the deadly infectious disease.

The INS Jalashwa carrying 698 Indians from the Maldives capital of Male arrived at Cochin port on the southwestern coast of India on Sunday morning.

It followed the arrival of 326 Indians from London early Sunday at Mumbai's international airport. Flights from Singapore and Uzbekistan carrying stranded Indians also landed in in the country on Sunday.

Another warship, the INS Magar, departed Male late Sunday carrying 202 more evacuees to Kochi. Around 4,000 of the 27,000 Indians living in the Maldives have registered to be taken home.

Satish Kumar, who lost his job in the Maldives in February, said he was worried about the journey back home aboard the INS Jalashwa and the lack of social distancing onboard despite the efforts of the navy.

"For food, there was only one counter. So all people on board would line up at the counter together," Kumar told AFP after he disembarked from the vessel.

"And then in the dormitories, people would be sleeping separately but you'd also see many of them sitting on each other's beds and talking, putting hands on shoulders. It was like a joy ride for them... I'm slightly worried -- why won't I be?"

- Quarantine upon arrival -

The naval efforts are part of an initial operation to repatriate almost 15,000 Indians from 12 countries.

The repatriation process is expected to be expanded in the next few weeks to include more stranded citizens in other European and Southeast Asian nations, local media reported.

On Thursday, the first two repatriation flights brought back 354 Indians from Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. They then went into quarantine centres.

Two returnees have since tested positive for coronavirus, Kerala state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said late Saturday.

He added that it was "a warning to those coming back from abroad and for other states to be on the alert".

India has started to ease its lockdown, but domestic and international flights remain grounded.

Authorities on Sunday reported 62,939 cases with 2,109 deaths, with recent days having seen record jumps.