CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation has started operating special flights via the Omani capital Muscat to bring back Egyptian citizens stranded in Qatar.

The ministry said in a statement that Egyptians stuck in Qatar would be repatriated via a company from Doha to Muscat, from whence they would be flown to Cairo International Airport by EgyptAir and Air Cairo.

The move came amid pressure to help citizens stranded in the Gulf state, over fears raised by its handling of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The ministry affirmed in its statement that it would include Egyptians whose visas had expired, and those who wished to return to Egypt due to COVID-19.

According to the statement, 18 flights will be operated by EgyptAir and Air Cairo to bring back around 3,000 Egyptians.

Egypt’s Minister of Immigration and Expatriates Affairs Nabila Makram said in a press statement that Egypt would treat all its citizens equally in repatriating them.

“That’s why we are dealing with the issue of Egyptian expats stranded in Qatar with full seriousness and consideration,” Makram said.

“There is a plan currently in action to repatriate Egyptians stranded there in cooperation with some friendly countries, which will receive the Egyptian expats, and then they will return to Egypt via Egyptian airliners. All the details will be announced as soon as such procedures are complete,” said Makram.

EgyptAir Holding Chairman and CEO Roshdy Zakaria said in a statement that EgyptAir carriers had been awaiting an official decision to evacuate Egyptians stuck in Qatar, with questions previously over whether it would be via Oman, Jordan, or Kuwait.

“We previously evacuated a number of expats who were stuck in Oman. The Egyptian flag carrier air fleet is ready to repatriate any Egyptian citizen from anywhere in the world,” Zakaria said.

“Discounts on local or international flight tickets are still being studied. All details will be announced soon after the studies are complete,” he added, stressing that the national flag carrier fleet was ready to resume flights immediately upon state approval.

Videos had been circulating on social media sites of hundreds of Egyptian workers in Qatar, calling on the authorities to allow them to return.

The videos were posted following allegations that Cairo had refused to bring them back.

Translator and writer Hussein Nagah told Arab News: “The situation in Qatar is catastrophic. Every day we read in the international press about the coronavirus outbreak there. Newspapers have reported that thousands of Indians in Qatar want to leave due to the outbreak of the coronavirus among Asian workers, resulting from the government’s negligence at the beginning of the crisis.”

Nagah added: “A report by the US TV network CBS News revealed weeks ago that Qatar had become the epicenter of the pandemic in workers’ camps (in the region).”

He also suggested that the Qatari authorities “hide many details and do not reveal the locations of infections.”

Civil aviation authorities in Egypt announced a halt in civil flights to and from Egyptian airports on March 19.

The decision exempted certain cases from suspension, including air freight, medical flights, domestic flights and charter flights to allow tourists to return to their countries of origin.

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