A passenger aircraft will leave India for Wuhan city in China's Hubei province today to bring back Indians stranded there amid a raging coronavirus outbreak, sources in the government said.
The Boeing 747 will start from Mumbai and make a brief halt in Delhi, from where the Chinese city is six hours away by flight. Sources said that over 325 Indians are waiting to be picked up at Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. The Air India flight is scheduled to depart from Delhi at 11:30 am and return to India by tomorrow afternoon.
The crew, which will include at least two doctors, have been instructed to only allow non-infected people into the aircraft. Equipped with masks, gloves and medicines, they will refrain from de-boarding the aircraft and only maintain minimal contact with passengers to prevent risk of infection. Food packets and water will be kept on each seat.
"The national carrier once again comes to the rescue - this time to evacuate Indians from Wuhan, the site of the outbreak of coronavirus. This mission begins today with a Jumbo 747 operating between Delhi and Wuhan," Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani tweeted.
The national carrier once again comes to the rescue - this time to evacuate Indians from Wuhan, the site of the outbreak of coronavirus. This mission begins today with a Jumbo 747 operating between Delhi and Wuhan.— Ashwani Lohani (@AshwaniLohani) January 31, 2020
The aircraft will leave Delhi after it is loaded with special medical kits meant for the purpose.
Over 200 people have died due to the coronavirus outbreak so far. While Chinese health authorities have confirmed over 9,000 cases, the infection has spread to at least 15 other countries. India reported its first case on Thursday, identifying the patient as a Keralite student from Wuhan University.
Russia has decided to close its border with China to prevent the coronavirus from invading its territory. "We have to do everything to protect our people," said Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar earlier told reporters that the government has established contact with 600 of the estimated 1,200 Indians residing in Hubei province. "We are individually ascertaining their willingness to travel back to India. Our mission is working round the clock to work out the necessary logistics. We are also making arrangements for people to travel to the airport," news agency ANI quoted him as saying.