Beijing/Wuhan: A special Air India flight to evacuate a large number of Indians stranded at China’s coronavirus-hit Wuhan city is scheduled to leave on Saturday morning for home.
The flight arrived at Wuhan’s Tianhe International Airport on Friday evening.
India announced plans to operate two flights from Wuhan to airlift around 400 students stranded in Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus, officially known as 2019-nCoV.
Wuhan is the provincial capital of Hubei province. Over 700 Indians, mostly medical students and research scholars, study in the local universities. Many had left for home earlier to avail the Chinese New Year/Spring Festival Holidays.
While the official number of students to be airlifted in the two flights is not known, Indians who reached the Wuhan airport on Friday said they were told that 374 were expected to be airlifted by the Air India flight.
Ahead of the Indian flights, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi flights have been listed to leave with their nationals. The airport, which was earlier closed for all air traffic, has been opened in the last two days to allow a number of countries to evacuate their nationals.
India announced plans to operate a second flight on Saturday. While Friday’s flight is scheduled to take mostly those stranded in Wuhan, Saturday’s flight is expected to take those held up in Hubei province.
Though the Indian officials have made elaborate arrangements to evacuate the Indian nationals in coordination with their Chinese counterparts, the travel to the airport became arduous for the stranded Indians as the city is under lockdown for about a week with all internal and external travel banned.
The Indians were picked up by special buses operated by the Chinese government from designated spots. For many, it turned out to be a long wait in the cold in the virus-hit city due to the delay in arrival of the buses.
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At the airport, they were screened on arrival and waited for the gates to open to go to the terminal.
India has taken an undertaking from the Indians travelling in the two flights that they would be quarantined for 14 days after their arrival, besides undergoing special checks at the Wuhan airport.
The 423-seater jumbo B747 plane, which took off from the Delhi airport at around 1.20 pm (local time), is likely to return early on Saturday, officials said.
“Some of us have reached the Wuhan Tianhe International Airport while some others are on their way,” a student, who did not want to be identified, told PTI over phone.
There are five doctors from Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) hospital and one paramedical staff onboard, they said, adding that around 400 Indians are expected to be evacuated.
About Friday’s flight, the spokesperson said, “A team of five doctors from RML hospital, one paramedical staff from Air India, with prescribed medicines from doctors, masks, overcoats, packed food are in the aircraft”.
Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani said, “No service will take place in the plane. Whatever food is there will be kept in seat pockets. As there will be no service, there will be no interaction (between cabin crew and passengers).”
A team of engineers, security personnel are also there in the special aircraft. The whole rescue mission is being lead by Captain Amitabh Singh, Director (Operations), Air India, the spokesman said, adding that there are five cockpit crew and 15 cabin crew on Friday’s special flight.
The death toll in China’s coronavirus epidemic spiked to 213 and total infections reached 9,692, the government said on Friday as the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak that has spread to more than a dozen countries, including India, as a global health emergency.
About 20 countries, including India, the UK, US, South Korea, Japan and France, have reported confirmed cases of the virus in travellers coming from China.
Also read: Coronavirus outbreak declared global health emergency. Here’s what it means