Coronavirus: India begins repatriating citizens from the Gulf

Indian citizens have begun returning home from Arab states in the Gulf as part of a massive operation to repatriate them.

Migrant workers in the Gulf have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and many have been anxious to leave. Some nationalities have been able to do so and their Arab hosts have been eager to reduce the numbers remaining in their countries but the Indian government had been resisting.

India initially closed its borders, fearing that an influx of returnees would spread infection and possibly overwhelm its health services. That has now changed and an organised repatriation scheme is under way.

CLICK HERE to jump to Middle East updates

The aim of the operation, known as Vande Bharat, is to bring back 200,000 Indians from various countries and return others who have been stranded in India. It is described as India's biggest repatriation effort since 1990 when 170,000 civilians returned from Kuwait after the Iraq invasion.

The first flights have now arrived from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman, and another is due to arrive from Qatar today.

Returnees are being checked before departure and only those without signs of infections are allowed to travel. On arrival, most will spend the next two weeks in quarantine centres.

However, there are thought to be several million Indians living in the Gulf, so Vande Bharat may make only a small dent in their numbers. Those who benefit from the scheme are most likely to be the better off, since returnees have to pay their own fare. Those who can't afford it will have to stay behind and some are not allowed to leave because of unpaid debts.

Middle East updates

New cases

A further 7,702 Covid-19 infections have been reported in the Middle East and North Africa since yesterday's update.

Four countries reported more than a thousand new cases: Saudi Arabia (1,704), Iran (1,529), the UAE (1,405) and Qatar (1,130).

The list below shows cumulative totals (excluding Iran) since the outbreak began, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

Algeria 5,558 (+189)
Bahrain 4,774 (+330)
Egypt 8,964 (+488)
Iraq 2,679 (+76)
Israel 16,458 (+14)
Jordan 522 (+14)
Kuwait 7,623 (+415)
Lebanon 809 (+13)
Libya 64 (-)
Morocco 6,038 (+165)
Oman 3,399 (+175)
Palestine 547 (-)
Qatar 21,331 (+1,130)
Saudi Arabia 37,136 (+1,704)
Sudan 1,164 (+53)
Syria 47 (-)
Tunisia 1,032 (+2)
UAE 18,198 (+1,405)
Yemen 36 (-)

TOTAL: 136,343 (+6,173)

Note: Yemen's total includes two cases reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country.

New cases reported in the Middle East (excluding Iran) day by day since March 10

Death toll

A further 115 coronavirus-related deaths were reported in the region yesterday – 48 of them in Iran and 24 in the UAE.

Iran's official figure is the lowest number of deaths in a single day since March 9.

The list below shows cumulative totals of reported deaths in the region outside Iran, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

Algeria 494 (+6)
Bahrain 8 (-)
Egypt 514 (+11)
Iraq 107 (+3)
Israel 248 (+3
Jordan 9 (-)
Kuwait 49 (+2)
Lebanon 26 (-)
Libya 3 (-)
Morocco 188 (+2)
Oman 17 (-)
Palestine 4 (-)
Qatar 13 (+1)
Saudi Arabia 239 (+10)
Sudan 64 (+5)
Syria 3 (-)
Tunisia 45 (-)
UAE 198 (+24)
Yemen 8 (-)

TOTAL: 2,237 (+67)

Note: Yemen's total includes one death reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country.

Daily totals of coronavirus-related deaths in the Middle East (excluding Iran) over the last four weeks

CLICK HERE for previous updates

For anyone interested: A spreadsheet documenting the coronavirus cases and deaths reported in the region each day can be viewed here.