The Delhi High Court on Thursday directed the Centre to contact the Indian students stranded in Iran amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and give assurances to them, Live Law reported. Iran is the epicenter of the outbreak in West Asia, with more than 9,000 cases and 354 deaths. There are about 6,000 Indians stranded in Iran, according to the government.

The single-judge bench of Justice Navin Chawla was hearing a plea moved by the parents of Indian students trapped in Iran. The petitioners claimed that the plight of the students violated their right to life and liberty.

The court asked the government to submit a report on the status of its evacuation plan on March 17. It also directed the ministries of home affairs, external affairs, health and aviation to come up with a “positive plan” for evacuation. The court said it would not tolerate the non-compliance of its order.

In the plea, the petitioners claimed that India’s evacuation process in Iran focused on pilgrims instead of students. The Centre argued that despite negligible support on the ground from the authorities in Iran, various steps had been taken to evacuate students and visitors and not just the pilgrims.

The Centre said a team of experts headed by a scientist from the National Institute of Virology in Pune had been sent to Iran to provide assistance. The Centre added that it was following the World Health Organization protocol and was constantly working to bring back swabs to India for testing.

The court ruled that the government must chart out a priority plan and focus on evacuating people whose locations were already known. “The government must focus on areas that are worst affected,” said Justice Navin Chawla, adding that issuing mere medical advisories will not help. “The students who are stuck there need to be given actual assurances.”

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told the Lok Sabha that the initial focus of the evacuation plan was on bringing back the Indian pilgrims stranded in Iran, PTI reported. He said the coronavirus was a matter of the concern and the country must act responsibly. He added that the Centre was also working with authorities to start operating limited commercial flights for evacuation.

On Monday, Jaishankar had made a surprise visit to Jammu and Kashmir and met the family members of students stranded in Iran. Officials said that over 100 people met Jaishankar in Srinagar and urged the government to airlift their relatives and students from Iran immediately.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization described the coronavirus as a pandemic for the first time and urged the global community to step up efforts to contain the infections, saying aggressive measures could still play a big role to curb it.