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As the rich and super rich scramble to escape the horrors of the Covid-19 surge in India, airline fares have soared along with the number of private jet charters to foreign nations.
According to a report in The London Times, at least eight private jets carrying India’s super wealthy landed in London ahead of the UK’s 4 am ban on travel from India.
Both the UK and Canada added India to its “red list” of pandemic-stricken countries.
As of Friday, any Britons returning from India must quarantine for 10 days in a government-approved hotel.
All non-British or non-Irish citizens will be banned entirely from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.
According to a report in The Daily Beast, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to cancel his own state visit to India scheduled for next week as a “precautionary measure.”
The last of the luxury airliners to arrive, VistaJet Bombardier Global 6000, which left Dubai Thursday to collect passengers in Mumbai, landed at 3:15 am, just 44 minutes before the restrictions took place.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government has banned passenger flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days, CBC News reported.
At a virtual press conference, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said that because an increasing number of travellers from both countries have been arriving in Canada with Covid-19, all commercial and private passenger flights from those countries will be barred as of 11:30 pm Thursday night.
Cargo flights will still be permitted in order to maintain shipments of essential supplies, such as vaccines and personal protective equipment, he said.
Alghabra also said air passengers who depart from India or Pakistan but arrive in Canada via a third country will need to produce a negative result on a Covid-19 test taken at their last point of departure before being allowed to enter Canada.
According to The Daily Beast, the private jet passengers were fleeing unimaginable horror back home.
At least 14 Covid-19 patients perished in a devastating fire that ripped through an ICU ward in one of India’s overcrowded hospitals about 70 miles outside Mumbai, the report said.
The fire that broke out around 3 a.m. Friday morning was contained and extinguished, but not before 14 patients — many who were intubated and hard to evacuate — had died.
“Around 90 patients were admitted to the hospital at the time of the incident,” Dilip Shah, the head of the Vijay Vallabh Hospital where it happened, said in a statement Friday.
One eyewitness, Avinash Patil, told reporters outside the hospital that no doctors were present at the time.
“I got a call at around 3 a.m. from a friend whose mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital,” he said.
“As I reached the hospital, I saw fire engines outside. The ICU on the second floor was engulfed in smoke. Only two nurses were there, and I couldn’t see a doctor. It took firefighters about half an hour to put out the flames. We could see eight-10 bodies there.”
Earlier in the week, an oxygen leak in Maharashtra state, near where the fire broke out, resulted in the death of 24 Covid-19 patients who were on ventilators, the report said.
To make terrible matters even worse, India reported its highest one-day number of cases, recording 332,730 new infections in a 24-hour period. In the same period, 2,263 people died with Covid-19.
India has been overwhelmed by new cases coupled with a critical shortage of oxygen, hospital beds, and now ventilators, the report said. Many desperate families have been forced to turn to black-market price gougers who have been able to buy hospital space from corrupt administrators.
The spike in cases comes as political rallies are still being held and after a month-long religious ceremony continues to bring millions of people to the Ganges River.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticized for not calling a national lockdown to try to mitigate the spread and for hosting rallies ahead of elections in May.
Meanwhile, All flights from the UAE to India — one of the world’s busiest air corridors — will be suspended from Sunday onward.
Price comparison websites showed one-way commercial flights from Mumbai to Dubai on Friday and Saturday costing as much as 80,000 rupees (US$1,000), around 10 times the usual rate.
Tickets for the New Delhi to Dubai route were going for more than 50,000 rupees, five times the normal level.
No tickets were on offer from Sunday when the 10-day flight suspension comes into force.
For private jets, the amount of interest was “absolutely crazy,” a spokesman for charter company Air Charter Service India told Agence France-Presse.
“We have 12 flights going to Dubai tomorrow and each flight is completely full,” the spokesman said.
“I’ve fielded almost 80 enquiries for flying to Dubai today alone,” said a spokesman for Enthral Aviation, another provider.
“We have requested more aircraft from abroad to meet the demand … It costs $38,000 to hire a 13-seater jet from Mumbai to Dubai, and $31,000 to hire a six-seater aircraft,” he told AFP.
“People are making groups and arranging to share our jets just to get a seat … We’ve had some queries for Thailand but mostly the demand is for Dubai.”
The UAE is home to roughly 3.3 million Indians who make up a third of the population — most of them in Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the federation.
Seats on routes to the United States were still available but with prices substantially higher, in some cases almost double the normal fare.
No-frills private travel can cost as little as US$4,000 on a business commuter jet or as much as US$40,000 to have a plane to yourself.
Several variables determine how much flying privately costs, chiefly the size of the plane and the number of hours it’s used.
A spokesman for Hong Kong-based APERTUS Aviation said renting an ultra long-range private aircraft from Mumbai to London, with a flight time of 09:15, would range from $US125,800 to $US148,600.
As a benchmark, the US-based Air Charter Service provides these “hourly” rental estimates for airplane rental in September 2020.
Sources: The Daily Beast, The Jakarta Post, Agence France-Presse, India Today, CBC News, CNN Travel, Canadian Press