Just as the World Health Organisation (WHO) declares the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 8,000 people and killed over 200 as a global health emergency, India is preparing to send a special flight to China’s Wuhan city, where the virus originated. While the entire city has been quarantined following the outbreak, India is attempting to evacuate more than 400 Indian nationals living in China who have not yet been infected by the virus. A 423-seater Air India jumbo plane was scheduled to depart from Delhi on January 31 at 12.30 PM.
“The government of India has been conducting a regular review on the situation arising out of the outbreak of coronavirus in China,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told Economic Times. “We have put out regular updates on the arrangements which are being made. We have made a formal request to the government of China for bringing back Indian nationals from the Hubei province in two flights. We are awaiting for the necessary approval from the Chinese side. We hope this will be granted soon.” The ministry has contacted more than 600 Indian nationals living in China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus, to gauge their willingness and ability to return to their home country.
This comes after Indians stuck in the quarantined city made a desperate appeal to the Indian government over fears of food, water and essential resources running out.
While this move has been in the works since the beginning of the week, many are concerned since India’s first case of the highly contagious coronavirus was confirmed in Kerala on January 30. The student who tested positive had come from Wuhan city, causing many to worry about what bringing back more citizens stuck in China could lead to. However, the Indian Health Ministry promises to take precautionary measures to prevent the spread.
There will be five doctors and one paramedical staff on board the flight in case of an emergency. The airline has arranged for masks and protective gear for the crew and passengers, and will avoid in-flight service to reduce the risk of contact.
Ironically, even as one flight sets out to be the saviour, the accelerating pace of the coronavirus outbreak in China is expected to disrupt the airline business, with most flights either suspending or curtailing their trips to China, as well as reducing the frequency of flying to Hong Kong.
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