India asks China to clear evacuation of nearly 300 citizens from Wuhan
The Indian government on Tuesday requested China to clear a flight that could evacuate about 300 citizens from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak that has so far killed 106 people and prompted the medical isolation of dozens in India, including the national capital, over suspicions of the infection.
The number of confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Tuesday from 2,835 the previous day. The flu-like virus has spread overseas, but none of the 106 deaths has been beyond China, and all but six were in Wuhan. The fast-spreading infection was first reported in the capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei last month, experts said, probably from illegally traded wildlife.
Hundreds of Indians are currently in Hubei, mostly in Wuhan. A large number of Indian students are based in Wuhan, though many of them recently left the city for the Chinese New Year holidays.
The external affairs ministry made a formal request to China “for facilitating evacuation of Indian nationals from Wuhan” and the civil aviation ministry will make arrangements after approval is received from Chinese authorities, an official statement said in New Delhi.
“On evacuation, these individuals will be kept in quarantine for 14 days. Necessary arrangements in this regard are being made,” the government note said.
The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) also approved an Air India flight to Wuhan for evacuation “as per requirement”, people familiar with developments said. About 300 people, mostly students, research scholars and professionals, are expected to be evacuated from the city, they said.
Another person involved in the matter said on Tuesday evening the flight was not expected to leave before Wednesday as a formal approval from Beijing was awaited.
Thermal screening of passengers for possible exposure to the deadly novel coronavirus (nCoV) infection will be extended to 20 airports from the existing seven, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said on Tuesday and confirmed no case has been detected in India so far.
He said the government has made four more laboratories functional other than National Institute of Virology-Pune (NIV-Pune) for testing samples and it will be extended to 10 labs in the coming days.
Authorities in Delhi on Monday isolated three people at the Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital with flu-like symptoms after they returned from China. Two of these patients arrived in the last week, while the third had returned from China nearly a month ago. The results of the tests performed on the three were awaited till late on Tuesday. The three are aged 48, 34 and 24. “They have been isolated, and their samples have been sent for testing to the National Centre for Disease Control,” said Dr Minakshi Bhardwaj, medical superintendent, RML.
The Union health minister said the government was vigilant even as the three suspected cases were being monitored in Delhi. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is himself taking regular updates on the situation. All States have been directed to follow the instructions to be prepared. In 2014, we were so strict and focused that our efforts did not let Ebola virus enter India. I am also in regular touch with the WHO [World Health Organization],” he said.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar told reporters in Gujarat: “The Indian embassy is in constant touch with the Chinese government. To evacuate students and other Indians from Wuhan, we are planning to send a plane there.
“Our efforts are on to bring them back. It will take some days. I urge people to trust the government on this… No Indian student has been found to be affected by this virus. Parents need not worry about their children,” he added.
In a message circulated among Indians in Hubei, the Indian embassy said the process of evacuation had begun and that the evacuated people would be quarantined for a fortnight on return to India.
“Embassy of India, Beijing is in touch with the Chinese government authorities to work out date and logistics of the evacuation,” said the message circulated among Indians via WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging app. “Please be informed that those availing of this option will have to undergo a mandatory 14-days quarantine on arrival in India,” it said.
The message said details regarding the date of evacuation would be “communicated in due course”, and asked the Indians “to be patient and wait for further updates”.
Chief ministers of two states, Kerala and Gujarat, have appealed to the Union government to airlift Indian nationals stranded in Chinese cities.
People familiar with developments in New Delhi said the Indian embassy in Beijing was ascertaining the exact number of Indians to be evacuated. They also ruled out a blanket evacuation of all Indians from across China.
Known as “2019-nCoV”, the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia and, like other respiratory infections, it spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes.
Hubei and its capital city Wuhan are under an unprecedented lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus that has also infected more than 4,500 people in China. Tens of millions in Hubei are either in lockdown or facing public transport restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.
Other countries, too, were preparing to evacuate their nationals from Wuhan. Japan sent its first plane to Wuhan on Tuesday night to evacuate citizens and France said it would send a plane on Thursday to start evacuating its citizens, the first repatriations by a European country.
The US government chartered a plane to fly out diplomats from the US Consulate in Wuhan, where the outbreak started, and other Americans. The plane will make a refueling stop in Alaska before flying on to Ontario, California, the US embassy said.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Beijing to discuss how to protect Chinese and foreigners in areas affected by the virus and “possible” evacuation alternatives, a WHO spokesperson said. “The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide,” state television quoted Xi as saying.
(With inputs from agencies)