Coronavirus: Centre to bring back Indians stranded in Italy

Coronavirus: Centre to bring back Indians stranded in Italy; 61 infected so far
S Jaishankar (L), screengrab of a video sent by the Indians stranded in Italy (R).

New Delhi: A team of doctors will leave for Italy by Thursday for testing the Indians stranded there for coronavirus and to subsequently bring them back to India. The Centre asserted that it was focusing on bringing back all Indians stuck in Iran and Italy – epicentres of the virus in Middle East and Europe respectively.

Making a statement in Rajya Sabha on the Indians stranded due to restrictions placed in the wake of coronavirus outbreak, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said Iran and Italy are two “focal points” for the government.

The minister said India has already brought back its 58 citizens from Iran and the government was working with Iranian authorities to operate some limited commercial flights for facilitating the early return of the remaining Indians after testing them.

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The minister emphasised that the government remains fully committed towards the safety and welfare of Indian nationals in any part of the world as this has been the hallmark of its foreign policy.

"The situation in Italy is now emerging a cause of great concern. I would like to share with members that steps in this regard have already been initiated," the Minister said.

"The global Coronavirus situation is being monitored on a continuous basis by a Group of Secretaries headed by Cabinet Secretary and a Group of Ministers, chaired by Minister of Health and Family Welfare," Jaishankar said. Precautionary measures are also being taken on all land borders as well as air and sea entry points, the minister added.

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Regarding Indians in Italy, Jaishankar said an advisory was issued regarding 'COVID free' certificates because of the spread of coronavirus is quite strong there.

"We wanted everybody boarding a flight (to India) to have a COVID free certificate. It has been difficult to get that in Italy because the Italian system is busy treating patients.

"We are hoping by tomorrow to fly in a medical team to Italy just as we have flown into Iran. We will do testing of those people and try to put them on very early flight thereafter," he said.

Infections in Italy topped the 10,000 mark, the second-worst affected country after China. More than 630 people have already died.

Keralites stranded at Italian airport pleads for help

Several Keralites are stranded at the Fiumicino Airport in Italy after the airlines, in which they had booked tickets, refused to fly them as none of the passengers carried certificates stating that they were free of COVID-19 virus.

Some of these passengers told Manorama Online that the airlines had informed them that passengers from Italy would not be allowed to land at the airports in Kerala unless they produced the certificate. Moreover, these passengers are unable to return to their houses in Rome and other cities as a red alert is in force in Italy.

A passenger said that most of the passengers had learnt that the certificate was made mandatory only while waiting in the check-in queue at the airport. Officials at the Central Health Ministry said the Civil Aviation Director general had made the certificate compulsory for passengers from Italy and South Korea on last Friday itself. The Air India too had tweeted in this regard. However, the stranded passengers said that no intimation in this regard had been given to those who had booked tickets in advance.

With sixteen more people testing positive for the virus, the total number of COVID-19 cases in India touched 60 on Wednesday, the health ministry said. Two fresh cases were reported from Delhi and Rajasthan. 

Kerala, which reported the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the country, saw 8 more people testing positive for the virus on Wednesday. Karnataka and Maharashtra too reported three positive cases each.

All people infected by deadly coronavirus are showing signs of recovery, said Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. Of the 60, sixteen are Italian nationals.

The national helpline number for the coronavirus is 011-23978046.