New Delhi: A little fear and much relief — the Indians evacuated from Wuhan, the centre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China, felt a rush of emotions as they landed in India Saturday.
The 324 nationals have reportedly cleared the first round of tests but will now stay in quarantine for 14 days before they can go home. Fourteen days is believed to be the latest it takes the novel coronavirus to manifest in a patient, and the time in quarantine is going to be spent on edge.
Even so, there was relief at leaving China, where the coronavirus toll has risen to 259.
The journey from Wuhan
The passengers, many of them students, were brought to India aboard an Air India Boeing 747 sent to Wuhan by the union government, with a second round of evacuees expected to return Saturday night.
Speaking to ThePrint by phone after their arrival in India, two students described the trepidation that stalked them from Wuhan to India — the long hours of wait at the Chinese resort town and the procedures they underwent before embarking on the journey to Delhi.
“We were picked up in a bus and brought to the airport. We were all wearing masks. Nobody talked to us much, they would only give us information (about what needs to be done),” one of the students said.
An airborne infection, coronavirus typically manifests through “influenza-like” symptoms that include a runny nose, fever, cough, common cold and, in extreme cases, pneumonia.
At the airport, all passengers were checked for fever before they boarded the plane. Once inside the plane, they were screened once again by a team comprising five doctors from Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and a paramedical staffer, said a classmate of the aforementioned student.
It was after the second round of screening that six passengers, found to be running a fever, were offloaded. The first of the two students approached by ThePrint said those left behind were told they would be brought on the second Air India flight.
Those cleared for the journey, the students added, were handed new masks and asked to discard the ones they had on. According to the two students, there was not much communication or contact between them and the officials onboard the flight.
Each of the passengers got a food packet, comprising tetra packs of Frooti, peanuts and other snacks, which had been kept at their seats before they boarded.
Nearly seven hours later, the flight touched down in New Delhi. A video filmed soon afterwards and shared with this reporter showed rows of people with masks.
Two weeks in isolation
According to information released by the health ministry, 220 of the passengers were taken to an Army facility in Manesar and the remaining 104, women and children, to a facility near the Indo-Tibetan Border Police’s (ITBP’s) Chhawla camp in Delhi.
The two students who spoke to ThePrint were among the 104 taken to Chhawla.
One of them said evacuated families were given closed rooms on the premises, while others put up in barracks.
Over the 14 days that they spend here in isolation, a team of 25 doctors — 15 from Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital and 10 from the ITBP — will monitor them regularly.
“We have just been told to take care of our hygiene. It’s all fine here. We’ve been given beds,” said the first of the two students. “But I just want to go home.”
Her classmate, however, had some concerns and described the facility as “crowded”.
“We have beds but the rooms aren’t closed. There are too many people here. In Wuhan, we were told to stay inside our rooms and wear masks. But here people have been going around without masks,” she said.
“I do feel worried, especially because we can’t meet our families. But we got saved,” she added. “That’s our good fortune.”