India was testing samples taken from the citizens stranded in Iran and would soon operate a limited number of commercial flights to evacuate them, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar informed the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
Making a suo moto statement, the Minister acknowledged that the novel coronavirus crisis was a serious issue and officials on both sides were working on the plan.
“As per available information, there are over 6000 Indian nationals in various provinces of Iran. These include about 1,100 pilgrims mainly from the Union Territories of Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir, and the State of Maharashtra; 300 students mainly from Jammu and Kashmir; about 1,000 fishermen, including from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat; and others,” said Dr. Jaishankar. Certain protocol would be followed in ensuring the evacuation of the citizens.
The region where most of the fishermen were located was not impacted by the outbreak. Over the last one week, India had sent a team of six health officials to set up a laboratory there. “The first batch of 108 samples were received in India on 7 March. These were tested and 58 Indian pilgrims [26 men, 31 women and 2 children], who tested negative, were repatriated in a special C-17 flight on March 10,” said Dr. Jaishankar. The same flight brought back samples of 529 more Indians and they were being tested in the National Institute of Virology, Pune.
Out of these samples, 299 have tested negative and work on the rest was on. Iran had been witnessing an extreme case of the viral outbreak, causing anxiety among the Indians living there and they have been urging the Indian government to evacuate them at the earliest.
“We are working with the Iranian authorities to operate some limited commercial flights for facilitating early return of the remaining Indians after testing them,” the Minister said, adding that preparation was under way for the same.