Coronavirus outbreak in China: New Delhi on alert, looks at ‘travel options’ for Indians in virus zone

Abantika Ghosh, Anuradha Mascarenhas
Coronavirus news, coronavirus india, China, Coronavirus, S Jaishankar, Coronavirus in India, Kerala, health, epidemic, SARS, Indian Express

People wearing protective masks walk outside Forbidden City which is closed to visitors, according to a notice in its main entrance for the safety concern following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Beijing, China. (REUTERS)

India on Sunday said it is  “examining all options, including through consultations with the Chinese authorities, to provide relief” to Indians, mostly students, stranded in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in central China’s Hubei province.

The reference to “all options” is being seen as a pointer to exploring the possibility of an evacuation. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson, Raveesh Kumar, tweeted that the Indian Embassy in Beijing was in “close touch” with Indian citizens “to extend assistance, including on possible travel options out of Hubei Province”.

The ministry said that as of now, no Indian in China has been affected by the outbreak.

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“Our Embassy in Beijing is constantly checking on the health and well-being of the Indians in China,” tweeted External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

In a series of tweets, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the minister was “closely monitoring the situation” and the Indian Embassy was in “close touch with Indian citizens, including university students, in Wuhan & elsewhere in Hubei Province in China”.

“Our @EOIBeijing is in close touch with Indian citizens including students to extend assistance, including on possible travel options out of Hubei Province... We are also closely coordinating with Chinese authorities. As of now, we understand that no Indian citizens have been affected by the outbreak & that food & water supplies are available to them... Our Embassy & Consulates General in China will continue to work with Chinese authorities to try & facilitate Indian citizens caught up in these difficult circumstances,” he tweeted.

The Embassy of India in Beijing also put out a series of tweets, saying that it was “continuing to maintain close contact with our nationals in Wuhan city and elsewhere in Hubei, especially the student community”.

“In view of the large number of calls received in the two hotline numbers set up by @EOIBeijing in connection with the outbreak of coronavirus infection, @EOIBeijing has decided to open a third hotline number +8618610952903,” it said. The other two hotline numbers are + 8618612083629 and +8618612083617.

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“Over the last two days our hotlines have fielded nearly 600 calls to respond to concerns regarding this difficult situation. GoI and @EOIBeijing are also examining all options, including through consultations with the Chinese authorities, to provide relief to our affected citizens,” it said.

According to a PTI report, about 700 Indian students are believed to have been enrolled in several universities in Wuhan city and surrounding areas. While majority of these students, mostly medical students, are reported to have left a few weeks ago due to the Chinese New Year holidays, 250-300 are reported to be stranded in the city.

In a rare move, the Indian Embassy in Beijing also cancelled the Republic Day ceremony on Sunday.

Wuhan, along with 12 other cities, has been completely sealed off since January 23 to stop the virus from spreading.

China is reported to have permitted the US to evacuate its diplomats and citizens from Wuhan. Roughly 1,000 American citizens are thought to be in Wuhan, a report in state-run China Daily said. Global Times reported that France and South Korea also plan to airlift their citizens stranded in Wuhan.

Meanwhile, India is continuing to screen passengers arriving from China and Hong Kong at the Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Cochin airports — over 29,000 from 137 flights have been screened so far. A 24x7 NCDC (National Centre for Disease Control) call centre (+91-11-23978046) has also been made operational.

India has also stepped up vigil in districts bordering Nepal, after a confirmed case was reported there.
The National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune has completed tests on eight of the 13 samples received so far. Dr Priya Abraham, NIV Director, said all the eight samples had tested negative for coronavirus. “We have five more samples today and tests will be completed soon,” Dr Abraham told The Indian Express.

Of the 13 samples, three were from Mumbai, six from Kerala, two from Bengaluru and one each from Hyderabad and Warangal.

“We have to be vigilant and careful... Even if we get a sample that tests positive, it will be run through a series of tests at another laboratory in our NIV campus,” said Dr Abraham, adding, “Everyone with a cold and cough cannot be tested. There is no need for a panic situation”.

Meanwhile, a PTI report quoted Gao Fu, Director General of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, as saying that home quarantine is enough for Indian students who return from Wuhan if they have not shown any symptoms, but they should be kept in isolation in a hospital if they showed any signs of coronavirus.

— With PTI, Beijing