Kochi: More than 200 Europeans mostly Swiss nationals stranded in India, following the nationwide lockdown were evacuated by a special plane of Swiss International Airlines, Kerala Tourism department said here on Sunday. The plane took off from Kochi late Saturday night and landed at the Zurich airport on Sunday morning (10 am IST), it said in a release here.
Besides the 164 passengers who had boarded from Kochi, the flight carried 49 others from Kolkata from where it had a stopover in the Kerala city. Earlier, a Cochin International Airport spokesman said the aircraft had arrived here after picking up 62 Swiss nationals stranded in Kolkata.
This is the fourth flight that repatriated tourists from the state to Europe since the international airports were closed on March 23 to contain spread of Covid-19 disease. At the airport here, Swiss Consul-General to India (Bangalore) Sebastien Hug oversaw the repatriation mission along with Syed Ibrahim, Honorary Consul of the German Honorary Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
Besides 115 Swiss citizens, the flight carried tourists from Germany, Austria, Norway, Denmark and France. Most of the passengers from Kochi were tourists in Kerala, while the others were brought in from neighbouring states, the release said.
Kerala had earlier facilitated the return of 268 tourists to the UK when a London-bound British Airways departed from Kochi on April 15. Prior to it, an Air India aircraft with 232 passengers had left for Germany on March 31, and, four days later, a flight to France (112 people).
Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran said most of the foreign tourists stuck in the state have been repatriated. There were messages from the returned guests appreciating the excellent arrangements that the government had made for their care and health during their stay after the lockdown.
Secretary of Kerala Tourism, Rani George said most of the guests who returned had used the registration portal of the Swiss consulate, while others sought the help of the Kerala Tourism's help desks. All the returnees were transported to the airport from different places by the tourism department. "Providing them care is always our top priority," she said.
Director of Kerala Tourism, P Bala Kiran said the tourism help desks would continue to function and any tourists who are still held up in the state could seek their assistance. "Our focus now will be to prepare to receive the tourists immediately once the situation normalizes," Kiran said.
A team of Kerala Tourism officials, led by Joint Director Raj Kumar, had worked for the transportation and repatriation of these foreigners by completing the mandatory requirements.