Twenty-six Indian scientists stranded in South Africa’s Cape Town due to the coronavirus lockdown will be heading back home this week.
They had been on a mission to Antarctica and stuck in South Africa three months ago after the imposition of the lockdown. The scientists are among around 150 Indian nationals who will be returning home on a South African Airways (SAA) flight that will leave Johannesburg on Friday for Mumbai and Delhi.
Indian Consul General in Johannesburg, Anju Ranjan, said over 1,000 Indian nationals had registered for the flight.
Passengers had to be vetted by the Indian mission based on a criteria set by the South African Department of Home Affairs.
“We had to select priority passengers depending on their need,” Ranjan said in a Facebook broadcast.
The diplomat said those left out are likely to be repatriated on an Air India flight under the Indian government’s Vande Bharat mission. “People who are going back on this flight include 26 scientists from India who were stuck in Cape Town after they returned from a mission to Antarctica,” Ranjan said.
“They were here for the past three months, so this was a priority for us to send them back to India,” the official said.
Ranjan said 93 members of the ISE Cruise who were stuck in the coastal city of Durban were also a priority for them.
Others approved for the flight are those who are ill or on a temporary tourist visa.
Ranjan said the ticket price for the one-way flight was 15,000 rands, which was fixed by the SAA and the Indian government had nothing to do with it.
The fare, which is almost thrice the normal ticket price, has to be paid by the passengers themselves.
An Air India flight can be expected in phase 3 of the Vande Bharat mission in June as there is no fixed date for it yet, Ranjan said.
Currently, the mission in phase 2, the official added.
“Many people who could not pay could not be accommodated on the flight. I feel very sorry for them, but we can have some say and discounts when we get our own flights, so I just want them to wait patiently and not feel disheartened,” Ranjan said.