India on Sunday airlifted a second batch of 323 stranded Indians and seven Maldivian citizens from China’s coronavirus-hit Wuhan city, taking the total number of people evacuated to 654, Indian officials said.
IMAGE: Indian passengers board the special Air India flight to evacuate them from coronavirus-hit Wuhan City on Sunday. Photograph: ANI
Air India’s jumbo B747 made two flights to Wuhan city — the ground zero of the coronavirus epidemic that has killed more than 300 people, infected 14,380 others and spread to 25 countries, including India, the United States and the United Kingdom.
In the first flight on early Saturday, 324 Indians were evacuated and on Sunday another 323 Indians and seven Maldivian citizens were flown back.
‘The 2nd #AirIndia flight from #Wuhan has just taken off for #Delhi with 323 Indian citizens on board. 7 Maldives citizens are also being evacuated. Grateful once again to @MFA_China and local authorities all across #Hubei for their assistance,’ Indian Ambassador to China Vikram Misri tweeted on Sunday.
‘Want to thank my team at @EOIBeijing which mounted a non-stop almost 96-hour long operation to coordinate a complex airlift under challenging circumstances for us, the passengers and local authorities in #Hubei and #Wuhan,’ he said in another tweet.
‘A special word of appreciation for two of our officers who are on board the plane — Deepak Padmakumar and M Balakrishnan — they showed exemplary fortitude and a real spirit of public service by travelling to ground zero in #Wuhan to coordinate airport arrangements. Kudos to both,’ he tweeted.
Four Indians could not board the second flight after they reported high temperatures, Misri told PTI.
Officials said that six Indians could not board the first flight as they were stopped by the Chinese immigration officials after they reported high temperature.
They may be quarantined to undergo tests to determine whether they have symptoms of the coronavirus, officials said.
25 others stayed back, Misri said, adding that there may still be about 100 Indians who remained in Hubei province for which Wuhan is the provincial capital – the city where the virus first emerged in late December.
Ahead of the evacuation, the Indian Embassy had informed its stranded citizens that they have to undergo health tests before boarding the flight and also undergo a 14-day quarantine in special camps after reaching India.
Misri said that it was one of the most complex operations for the Indian officials as the entire evacuation process had to be conducted in Wuhan and Hubei province, which were under total lock down with all transportation including private vehicles banned as part of measures to curb the virus.
The entire operation needed to be conducted about 500-km away, he said.
Indian diplomats Deepak Padmakumar and M Balakrishnan were on the ground to coordinate evacuation operations with the Chinese, he said.
Besides the complicated process of identifying the stranded Indians and their addresses in the sprawling city and the province, the Indian Embassy in coordination with the Chinese officials arranged buses to pick them up from different destinations to drive them to airport.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and thanked him for the assistance to evacuate the Indians.
The Indian Army has set up a quarantine facility in Manesar near Delhi to keep those evacuated from China’s virus-hit province.
They would be monitored for any signs of infection for two weeks by a qualified team of doctors and staff members.
The evacuation of seven stranded Maldivian citizens along with Indians signifies the importance India attaches to its relations with the countries in the immediate neighbourhood, officials said.
Meanwhile, the death toll in China has jumped to 304 with the number of cases climbing to 14,380, Chinese health officials said on Sunday.
By the end of Saturday, a total of 304 people had died of the disease and 14,380 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection had been reported in 31 provincial-level regions in China, the National Health Commission (NHC) said in its daily report.
All the deaths are in Hubei Province, according to China’s National Health Commission.
Another 4,562 new suspected cases were reported on Saturday, said the commission.
On Saturday, 315 patients became seriously ill and 85 people were discharged from hospital after recovery, the Commission said.
The overall confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland had reached 14,380 (except Hong Kong and Macao) by the end of Saturday, the commission said.
The commission added that 2,110 patients remained in severe condition, and 19,544 people were suspected of being infected with the virus.
A total of 328 people had been discharged from hospital after recovery.
The commission said 1,63,844 close contacts had been traced, adding that among them, 8,044 were discharged from medical observation on Saturday, with 1,37,594 others still under medical observation, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
While India, the United States, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and many countries evacuated their nationals from Wuhan, the Pakistani government — despite strong criticism from the opposition — has declined pleas by several hundred Pakistani students in Wuhan to airlift them