Inside the special Air India flight which left Wuhan for New Delhi, Friday. (Photo courtesy Air India)
AS THE World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan a “public health emergency”, an Air India jumbo jet with a team of doctors and crew armed with masks, eye-shields and gloves evacuated 324 Indian nationals, mostly students, from the Chinese city.
The evacuees, who are scheduled to land in Delhi around 3 am Saturday, will be kept in isolation at facilities of the Army in Manesar and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) near Chhawla. They will be monitored daily for a minimum period of 14 days. The flight crew, will have to go through a minimum isolation period of a week at their homes. Follow LIVE Updates
Officials said only those who had cleared medical screening for novel Coronavirus (nCoV 2019) were evacuated. The evacuees will be screened again on arrival in Delhi. “If any individual is suspected to be infected, he/she will be shifted to the isolation ward at Base Hospital Delhi Cantonment (BHDC). Screening at the airport will be done by a joint team of Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) and Airport Health Authority (APHO),” Army officials said.
Samples will be sent to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and patients will be discharged only after clinical recovery — and after two successive samples test negative for n-COV. Of the evacuees, around 280 men will be housed in Manesar while approximately 90 women and families will be accommodated in the ITBP camp. Officials said a 50-bed critical care facility has also been set up at Safdurjung Hospital.
At the Manesar facility, officials said, the barracks for evacuees have been divided into sectors, each with a maximum capacity of 50. The evacuees will be allowed to engage in games, watch TV and have meals together. But the population of one sector will not be allowed to mingle with that of another.
Besides, officials said, no civilian or serving personnel detailed to work inside the facility will be allowed to go outside unless “compelled by an extreme emergency situation”.
“Daily medical examination of all inhabitants will be done at the medical facility area and all the staff, healthcare workers and housekeeping staff must wear their personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times... mask, eye shield, shoe cover, gown and gloves. Rest of the visitors and all students will wear a three-layered mask at all times,” Army officials said.
“After 14 days, persons with no symptoms will be allowed to go home with detailed documentation sent to the district/state surveillance units for further surveillance,” they said.
The facility will be administered by a nominated Officer-In-Charge (OIC) who will supervise a Community Medicine specialist, two nursing officers, a woman medical officer and a nursing assistant.
India’s first case is a Wuhan medical student from Kerala. The new arrivals will be classified into three. The first category covers individuals with signs of fever, cough or respiratory distress.The second involves those who had visited a seafood/animal market, or a health facility, or come into contact with a Chinese person with symptoms, in the last 14 days. And the third will have those without symptoms or contact history.
Those in the first group will be transferred to the BHDC while the others will be moved to the quarantine facility. “If any person is found affected... he/she will be shifted to the designated hospital for further investigation and management. In that case, it will be also assessed if further quarantine of the contacts is required,” the Health Ministry said.
At the ITBP facility, Dr Rajiv Garg, Director-General Health Services, will be the nodal officer from the Health Ministry. A nodal officer each will be deputed from the ministries of Home Affairs, Defence and External Affairs for effective coordination.
In Geneva, meanwhile, an emergency committee convened by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agreed that the outbreak meets the criteria for a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”.
This tag is essentially an alert for all countries that there is a serious chance of the virus spreading further globally. It is also a signal for a series of preventive measures to kick in: active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread, and sharing of full data with WHO.
In China, where the death toll touched 213 Friday, several buses were organised to ferry Indian students from different universities in Wuhan to the airport for evacuation.
Two sets of students in Wuhan told The Indian Express around 5 pm IST (7.30 pm local time) that they had boarded a bus for the airport. Three Indian students at Tongji Medical University in Wuhan said they were first informed by Embassy officials to be ready to board a bus for the airport at 7 am local time. Worried they will miss the ride, the students said, they stayed in the university office Friday.
A video sent to The Indian Express by a student from Jianghan University in Wuhan showed him entering the bus. Ahead of him were students in masks and luggage settling into their seats. “The Embassy sent us a message early Friday morning to be ready to leave,” he said.
At 4 pm IST, the student messaged stating that the bus had started moving towards the airport.