Pressure mounting for repatriation flight for Kiwis in India

Pressure mounting for repatriation flight for Kiwis in India
Photo credit: Getty Images

Health officials have been asked to approve a repatriation flight for stranded New Zealanders in India which could get citizens home by the end of the month.

India's COVID-19 death toll passed a quarter of a million this week, and experts say the worst could still be to come. The country recorded more than 4000 deaths for a second straight day on Thursday.

Indian Newslink editor Venkat Raman said travel agencies he had spoken with were ready to go.

"They're as ready as anyone can expect. One of them told me they'll be ready for repatriation flights by the end of May... but it all depends on the government regulations."

He said pressure on the Government to make a decision on charter flights was building.

"I would suggest that Government might [soon] go into a more serious stage of consultation on approving these kinds of charter flights."

The news came as the Indian community gathered in Wellington on Thursday night to discuss the issue.

Gurtej Singh, who was at the meeting, said some people were managing to leave, but it was not easy.

"I know one case where he had to fly to London, then to North America and from there made his way to Auckland."

And with commercial airlines remaining uncommitted to recommencing flights, he wanted a targeted effort from authorities to arrange charters from India to New Zealand.

"That would be the best solution and I think the word should go out from the High Commissioner that there would be a charter flight, and then people could register their interest."

There are 664 registered New Zealand travellers in India. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the actual number was unrecorded - but much higher.

Raman said the real number was needed, so charter flights could be organised accordingly.

Pancha Narayanan from the Multicultural Society, which organised last night's meeting, said getting charters operating was of the utmost importance but no one was expecting the government to foot the bill.

"Organising the flight is urgent, but no one is expecting to come for free. The community is quite clear that people expect to pay for their travel."

Raman agreed.

"The cost factor is now becoming a little irrelevant. Those I have spoken to have discarded the cost factor.

"They are happy to pay whatever it takes to come back... This is the safest country in the world."