Air India brings home 323 more from coronavirus hotbed Wuhan

AI flight from Wuhan carrying 323 stranded Indians and 7 Maldivians reach Delhi Airport
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New Delhi: The Air India flight from China's coronavirus-hit Wuhan city carrying the second batch of 323 stranded Indians and seven Maldivian citizens has landed at the international airport here. 

Air India's jumbo B747 made two flights to Wuhan city - the ground zero of the coronavirus epidemic that has killed more than 300 people, infected 14,380 others and spread to 25 countries, including India, the US and the UK.

In the first flight on early Saturday, 324 Indians were evacuated and on Sunday another 323 Indians and seven Maldivian citizens were flown back, taking the total number of people evacuated to 654, Indian officials informed.

"The 2nd #AirIndia flight from #Wuhan has just taken off for #Delhi with 323 Indian citizens on board. 7 Maldives citizens are also being evacuated. Grateful once again to @MFA_China and local authorities all across #Hubei for their assistance," Indian Ambassador to China Vikram Misri tweeted on Sunday.

"Want to thank my team at @EOIBeijing which mounted a non-stop almost 96-hour long operation to coordinate a complex airlift under challenging circumstances for us, the passengers and local authorities in #Hubei and #Wuhan," he said in another tweet.

"A special word of appreciation for two of our officers who are on board the plane - Deepak Padmakumar and M Balakrishnan - they showed exemplary fortitude and a real spirit of public service by travelling to ground zero in #Wuhan to coordinate airport arrangements. Kudos to both," he tweeted.

Four Indians could not board the second flight after they reported high temperatures, Misri told PTI.

Officials said that six Indians could not board the first flight as they were stopped by the Chinese immigration officials after they reported high temperature.

They may be quarantined to undergo tests to determine whether they have symptoms of the coronavirus, officials said.

Twenty-five others stayed back, Misri said, adding that there may still be about 100 Indians who remained in Hubei province for which Wuhan is the provincial capital - the city where the virus first emerged in late December.

Ahead of the evacuation, the Indian Embassy had informed its stranded citizens that they have to undergo health tests before boarding the flight and also undergo a 14-day quarantine in special camps after reaching India.

Misri said that it was one of the most complex operations for the Indian officials as the entire evacuation process had to be conducted in Wuhan and Hubei province, which were under total lockdown with all transportation including private vehicles banned as part of measures to curb the virus.

The entire operation needed to be conducted about 500-km away, he said.

Indian diplomats Deepak Padmakumar and M Balakrishnan were on the ground to coordinate evacuation operations with the Chinese, he said.

Besides the complicated process of identifying the stranded Indians and their addresses in the sprawling city and the province, the Indian Embassy in coordination with the Chinese officials arranged buses to pick them up from different destinations to drive them to the airport.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and thanked him for the assistance to evacuate the Indians.

The Indian Army has set up a quarantine facility in Manesar near Delhi to keep those evacuated from China's virus-hit province. They would be monitored for any signs of infection for two weeks by a qualified team of doctors and staff members.

The evacuation of seven stranded Maldivian citizens along with Indians signifies the importance India attaches to its relations with the countries in the immediate neighbourhood, officials said.

While India, the US, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and many countries evacuated their nationals from Wuhan, the Pakistani government - despite strong criticism from the opposition - has declined pleas by several hundred Pakistani students in Wuhan to airlift them.

(With inputs from agencies)

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