Special Air India plane to fly back stranded Indians from China’s Wuhan today
A special Air India jet flew from Wuhan with 366 Indians on Friday night, the first of two flights that will evacuate Indian citizens stranded in the central China city that is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
On Friday, the number of deaths due to the pathogen reached 213 and confirmed infections globally neared 10,000. The speed of the spread — coronavirus infections have now surpassed the total number of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) cases seen in 2003 — prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) late on Thursday to declare the outbreak a global health emergency.
According to Indian aviation officials, a Boeing 747-400 — one of the largest in Air India’s fleet — arrived in Wuhan on Friday evening with a team of doctors to take back the Indians who had been stranded in a city of nearly 11 million people now completely locked down over the outbreak.
The jet left India with 20 crew members, five doctors from Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) hospital and an Air India paramedic with stocks of medicines, masks, protective gear and packed food.
The aircraft, which can seat 423 people, also had on-board a team of engineers and security personnel.
“No service will take place in the plane. Whatever food is there will be kept in seat pockets. As there will be no service, there will be no interaction between the cabin crew and passengers,” said Ashwani Lohani, the chairman and managing director of Air India who was present during the departure.
Among the 366 are 280 men while the rest are women and children. All of these passengers will be allowed to board the plane only if they do not show symptoms of an infection — cough, fever, etc. Once they reach Delhi, the men will be taken to an Indian Army-managed camp in Manesar that has been turned into a special quarantined facility.
The women and children will be taken to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) operated Chhawla Camp in southwest Delhi.
“They can be monitored for a duration of two weeks by a qualified team of doctors and staff members to watch for any signs of infection,” an official in the defence ministry aware of the plans said, asking not to be identified.
HT reported on Thursday that defence forces were preparing special facilities to isolate the people being brought back from Wuhan on the request of the Union health ministry.
A joint team of the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) and Airport Health Authority will screen the evacuees in a two-step process at the Delhi airport.
“The first one being screening at the airport followed by quarantine at Manesar and if any individual is suspected to be infected, he/she will be shifted to the isolation ward at Base Hospital Delhi Cantonment (BHDC),” said an army press release.
The passengers will be classified into three groups: “suspect cases” showing any sign of fever, cough, or respiratory distress; “close contact and non-contact cases” which will include anyone who has no symptom but visited the Wuhan seafood and animal market, a health facility or came into contact with a someone exhibiting such symptoms in the last 14 days; and “non-contact cases” that will include people who neither show symptoms nor had any suspect contact.
“After 14 days, persons with no symptoms will be allowed to go home with their detailed documentation sent to the district/state surveillance units for further surveillance,” the army statement said.
“Samples for viral confirmation will be sent to NCDC, Delhi and patients will be discharged only after clinical recovery and two successive negative samples tested for nCoV,” it added.
The statement also said no one — civilian or a serving personnel working at the facility — will be allowed to go outside unless it is an extreme emergency.
An ITBP spokesperson said that at the Chhawla Camp, the passengers will have access to services such as wireless internet.
The outbreak was first confirmed on December 31, when authorities in Wuhan detected cases of pneumonia caused by an unknown pathogen, and has in the period since infected people in at least 25 countries outside of mainland China. The overwhelming majority, and all of the deaths, are in China.
India has till now one confirmed case, that of a woman in Kerala who tested positive on Thursday.
New assessments by some experts released on Friday pegged the actual number of infections in Wuhan at close to 75,000.
“In our baseline scenario, we estimated that the basic reproductive number for 2019-nCoV was 2.68... and that 75,815 individuals... have been infected in Wuhan as of Jan 25, 2020,” said a report published online by the medical journal Lancet.
The researchers who prepared the report are from a WHO-affiliated research centre in Hong Kong.