Air India has reacted to reports that 19 Indians who flew to China's Wuhan - where the Covid pandemic originated in December last year - on a "Vande Bharat" flight on Friday tested positive for the virus on arrival. In a statement to NDTV, Air India said it "strictly adheres to all safety protocols" and that all passengers on its Wuhan flight held negative Covid test reports from certified labs.
"All our passengers to Wuhan boarded the flight from Delhi with negative Covid reports from certified labs. Air India strictly adheres to all safety protocol laid down by regulatory bodies and conforms to requirements at destination airports," the statement said.
"There is no question of passengers boarding any of our flights without valid Covid reports," the airline stated. According to the rules, all Indian passengers need to undergo two Covid tests before being permitted to board flights.
According to reports, 39 others are asymptomatic but Chinese officials suspect they too have contracted the illness. All 58 are believed to have been transferred to COVID-19 hospitals.
News of the reported positive case comes days before the first of four more "Vande Bharat" flights to China, starting November 13. Friday's flight was the sixth to China and the first to Wuhan.
This is not the first time that outbound passengers on Air India flights to other countries have tested positive on arrival at their destinations.
On Wednesday Hong Kong banned all Air India flights till November 10 after a few passengers on a flight in from Mumbai tested positive upon arrival. That was the fourth time the Hong Kong government banned Air India flights from the country.
Bans were also placed on Air India Express by Dubai after a passenger tested positive on arrival.
Regularly scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended by the Indian government since the coronavirus lockdown was enforced on March 23.
However, airlines have been permitted to operate special flights - under the "Vande Bharat" umbrella - and under bilateral "air bubble" pacts signed with around 18 countries since July.
According to protocols in China all those who tested positive will be released only after they test negative. The rules also stipulate mandatory 14-day quarantine in designated hotels for all incoming passengers, irrespective of negative Covid test reports.
News agency PTI has said that there has been a surge in passenger air traffic to China after the government there lifted the ban on resident permit visas. Around 2,000 Indians - either students or professionals - want to return.
(With input from PTI)