Forty-four pilgrims from the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, who had been evacuated from Iran, returned to their homes on Sunday after spending a month in a naval quarantine facility in Ghatkopar, as the lockdown delayed their departure till a special flight was arranged.
During the period, the pilgrims, including 24 women, made the best use of the facility at Material Organisation to kill their time, which included a regular play of a game of cricket. Their stay began on March 13 and ended with all of them testing negative for COVID-19 on March 28. Each of them had undergone a pre-embarkation test and come negative.
Around March 20, six of the pilgrims caused tense moments after showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus. The six were retested and their reports came negative.
These 44 were part of the second batch of Indian pilgrims to return from Iran. All of them were part of a group of 120 Indians, 76 of whom returned to Delhi on March 15. The first batch of 58 Indian pilgrims were brought back on March 10. All Shia Muslim pilgrims were in Qom city where shrines attract millions of pilgrims every year.
In Mumbai, a team of medical staff from the Indian Navy worked tirelessly to monitor the health of the evacuees. They were supported by a team of conservancy personnel and other staff to take care of the cleanliness at the facility, their comfort, and well being. The food provided was prepared under strict supervision and customised to meet any special requirements.
“The pilgrims were made comfortable in the facility with provision of a library, a TV room, indoor games, a small gymnasium, and even limited cricket gear. The lockdown with limited availability of stores posed additional challenges that were overcome by innovation and resolve. Further, the evacuees’ stay was extended as they had no means of travelling to their homes in Srinagar and Ladakh. Consequently, arrangements were made to airlift them using an IAF aircraft. On April 12, a C-130 aircraft flew these people back to Srinagar,” Naval spokesperson Commander Mehul Karnik said.