The Ministry of External Affairs has made a formal request to China to facilitate the evacuation of Indians stranded in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province due to the outbreak of a coronavirus infection, the health ministry said on Tuesday. The evacuated people will be kept in quarantine for 14 days, the government said.
Thirteen more airports will now screen passengers with history of travel to China, taking the total number of such airports to 20. The health ministry is also procuring more thermal scanners for faster screening. Four more laboratories, besides National Institute of Virology in Pune, are preparing to test clinical samples, the ministry added. The Ministry of Shipping has also started screening at all major ports.
As many as 33,552 passengers on 155 flights had been screened till Monday, the health ministry added. Samples of 20 passengers sent to the National Institute of Virology tested negative for the infection. The ministry said it was reviewing the situation regularly, with participation from the secretaries of other departments.
Wuhan city of the Hubei province in central China is the epicentre of the outbreak. The city is on virtual lockdown, and transportation in much of Hubei has been curtailed. The virus has killed 106 people in China and infected more than 4,520 globally.
Earlier in the day, foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted that India had begun the process for the evacuation, and that the Indian Embassy in Beijing was working out the logistics. He said the ministry was in touch with the Chinese authorities and Indians regarding the coronavirus infection.
Around 250 to 300 Indian students are reportedly stuck in Wuhan, according to PTI.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said nearly 35,000 passengers have been screened at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Kochi airports. The chief ministers of all states have also been requested to review the preparedness for control and management of the spread of the virus.
The Centre’s three-member team of doctors said there was nothing to worry about the situation in Kerala, where over 400 people who returned from China are under observation.
“A new screening facility will be opened in Thiruvananthapuram Airport where passengers from China and Hong Kong will be screened,” Union Health and Family Welfare Advisor MK Shoukath Ali said. “So far, no case of coronavirus has been reported in the country. There is nothing to worry about in the state as of now.”
China’s National Health Commission said on Tuesday that apart from passing through the air, the virus can spread through physical contact with infected persons. The incubation period of the new virus is on average three to seven days, with the longest being 14 days, the commission said. It added that the coronavirus strain is 85% similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
On Monday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to arrange special flights to evacuate Indians stranded in Wuhan. He also requested Modi to give necessary instructions to the Indian Embassy in China to act proactively and provide necessary assistance to Indians, including people from Kerala stranded in Wuhan and Yichang.