London: The UK will receive the first batch of 3 million paracetamol packets from India by Sunday as it expressed gratitude to the Indian government for approving this "important shipment" after New Delhi lifted its export ban amid the coronavirus pandemic. Lord Tariq Ahmad, the Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), on Friday said the shipment is symbolic of the cooperative way both countries have been working through this unprecedented global crisis. "The UK and India continue to work in close partnership to respond to the COVID-19 threat. My sincere thanks on behalf of the UK government to India for approving this important shipment," Ahmad said. The shipment, set to arrive on a plane by Sunday, will coincide with a series of charter flights laid on by the UK government to ferry thousands of British residents stranded in India's coronavirus lockdown. "We have been working very closely with the Indian authorities, here at the Indian High Commission in London, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), and at the state level in India to put in place all the necessary requirements for British nationals wanting to return to the UK," Ahmad said. "The sheer logistics of this exercise involves every individual who has registered on to our central database being sent detailed information about booking their seat on the flights as well as local support for them to be able to get to the airports in the particular states, given the lockdown and curfews in place," he said. The travellers are set to be flown out from Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Thiruvananthapuram via Kochi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai via Bengaluru over the coming week. They will be checked for any symptoms of the novel coronavirus before being allowed to board the charter flights and on landing in the UK, they will be subject to the same self-isolation and social distancing stipulations as other UK-based citizens, the FCO said. An estimated 21,000 British residents are currently in India, of which around 5,000 are set to be repatriated over this weekend and the next week with a total of 19 charter flights confirmed between the different cities of India back to London. Passengers are given a chance to book on to these flights at a standard 600-650 pound rate, with those facing financial difficulties given the opportunity to access an interest-free loan to be paid back over a six-month period. The British High Commission in New Delhi has said that it is prioritising the more vulnerable within the nationals registered on its database wanting to return to the UK. The charter flights announced so far are expected to make "serious inroads" into repatriating the large numbers stranded in India, with an end of April target set for getting the majority back to the UK. In reference to some calls for a possible passenger swap on these flights, for thousands of stranded Indians in the UK to be flown back to India by return journey, the UK government said that is a decision for the Indian authorities - given the ban on international flights in India. The FCO said in the spirit of cooperation it has announced a series of measures to assist the Indians caught up in the crisis in the UK, including an extension to any expiring visas until the end of May and steps to safeguard university accommodation for Indian students. On Friday, the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in the UK rose to nearly 8,000, while the number of confirmed cases climbed to more than 65,000.
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