Coronavirus outbreak: Embassy alerts Indians about tentative evacuation plan today

Sowmiya Ashok, Shubhajit Roy
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People wearing masks are seen at Chennai International Airport on Thursday. (Reuters)

The Indian embassy in Beijing on Thursday alerted Indian nationals in Wuhan that it was tentatively preparing for evacuation on Friday evening. “This flight will carry those Indian nationals who are in and around Wuhan and have conveyed consent for their evacuation. There will be another flight subsequently which will carry those who are from other parts of Hubei Province,” the Indian embassy said in a message to the Indian community.

However, the Indian embassy said that the details “are tentative and are being shared with you so that you are adequately prepared”. The embassy officials said in the message that it was their intention to ensure that all those who had expressed consent to avail of this facility are safely returned to India.

The embassy has drawn up a list of 374 students — till 11pm on Thursday — who will board flight no.1 and will be tentatively evacuated on Friday. However, official communication to students indicated that this will be subject to clearing the medical check-up conducted by Chinese officials. The students have been told to pack no more than one carry-on bag (7 kg) and one check-in luggage (15 kg) for their journey. They have also been asked to make sufficient arrangements for masks, gloves, tissues, hand sanitizers, adequate food and drinking water and essential medicines. Students have been told to prepare for departure at “very short notice” on Friday afternoon.

In New Delhi, the government said that it was waiting for the necessary approval from the Chinese side for the two Air India flights to bring back about 600 Indians, who have been contacted by the Indian embassy.

Read | WHO declares coronavirus outbreak ‘global emergency’

Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “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 the necessary approval from the Chinese side. We hope this will be granted soon.”

The government has reached out to over 600 Indians living in China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, to ascertain their willingness to be brought back to India.

“We have established contact with over 600 Indians across the province and are individually ascertaining their willingness to be repatriated. Our Mission in Beijing is working round-the-clock on the ground to work out the necessary logistics,” the MEA spokesperson said.

According to Chinese authorities, the nationwide death toll from novel coronavirus has jumped to 170. Kumar said arrangements are being put in place for people to travel to the airport in Wuhan.

“We remain committed to the safety and well-being of our nationals abroad. We appreciate the support extended by the government of China and other ministries in government of India in putting this process together,” Kumar said.

In New Delhi, the Chinese embassy’s spokesperson Ji Rong said that the Chinese Embassy in India has maintained close communication with the Indian government, and timely briefed on the development of the epidemic and China’s efforts in epidemic prevention and control. “The Chinese side pays close attention to the report of the emergence of one confirmed case of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus in India and will cooperate with the Indian side to jointly strengthen the epidemic prevention and control.”

Ji said, “The Chinese government attaches great importance to safeguarding the safety and health of every foreign national in China, including the Indian people. We are willing to continue to maintain close communication with the Indian side, provide necessary assistance and convenience to ensure the health and safety of Indian citizens in China, and address their legitimate concerns timely. We also hope Indian side could continue to render understanding and support to China’s efforts in epidemic prevention and control.”