India on Thursday evacuated its nationals from Wuhan and brought back those who were quarantined on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked off Yokohama in Japan.
The evacuations were conducted even as Indian nationals in Iran demanded to be evacuated after India restricted all civilian flights from Tehran because of the COVID-19 outbreak that prompted widespread cancellation of tickets.
A civilian aircraft evacuated 119 Indian nationals and five foreign citizens — two from Sri Lanka and one each from Nepal, South Africa and Peru — who were quarantined on board the cruise ship. A government release said two Indian crew members did not board the special flight as they wanted to complete the extended quarantine period put in place by the Government of Japan.
“Appreciate the facilitation of Japanese authorities. Thank you Air India once again,” said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, announcing the evacuation from Japan.
Mr. Jaishankar announced that an Indian Air Force C-17 aircraft brought back 76 nationals from Wuhan on Thursday after delivering 15 tonnes of medical cargo to the Chinese authorities . The Government said that the assistance to China was as agreed during the discussion between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping on February 8.
“On its return from Wuhan the IAF Flight also brought back 76 Indian nationals [including 3 Indian Embassy officials who were on ground in Wuhan to coordinate the evacuation] and 36 foreign nationals, including from some of our neighbouring countries who had sought assistance in travelling,” said the Ministry of External Affairs in a press release.
Even as India battled the COVID-19 threat by evacuating nationals and placing them in quarantined facility, a new crisis has emerged on the Iranian front with Indian nationals complaining of large scale cancellation of air tickets after India restricted entry of Iranian airlines into India.
Huda Fayaz, an Indian medical student in the Kish island of Iran, complained that Indians who had booked air tickets to return home are unable to board flights as Iranian airlines like Mahan Air have been restricted from entering Indian airspace. “Kish is located far from Tehran, but there is no quarantine procedures in place here and people from Tehran are travelling here freely and therefore we are very worried about our safety and want to return home as soon as possible,” said Ms. Fayaz over phone.
A large number of Iranians are affected by the virus and several countries in the Gulf have placed restrictions on the movement of passengers from Iran. Indian embassies in the region are conducting public outreach to spread awareness about the spread of the virus and the Embassy of India in Abu Dhabi has issued an advisory for the Indian community in the Gulf nation to help prevent the spread of the disease.
India has so far flown three sorties for evacuation of citizens from Wuhan, which is the epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis of China. The earlier two operations were conducted on January 31 and February 1 and in all 723 Indians and 43 foreign nationals have been evacuated by the Government of India so far from Wuhan.