At least 254 Indian pilgrims stranded in Iran have tested positive for Covid-19, a list shared by an Indian embassy official with pilgrims shows. Several pilgrims, including one who tested positive, told Scroll.in that the list was shared on Sunday on a WhatsApp group consisting of pilgrims and Indian government officials.
The pilgrims claimed Indian embassy officials in Iran have assured them that all those stranded will be airlifted back to India in the next few days.
“They had taken samples from almost all the stranded passengers over the last 10-12 days and now the results have come,” 36-year-old Mohammad Imran, one of the pilgrims stranded in Iran, told Scroll.in over phone. According to Imran, most of the Covid-19 positive patients are above 50 years old. Imran himself has tested negative. The patients belong to a group of 850 pilgrims mostly from Kargil marooned in Iran since February.
On Tuesday, the Indian authorities arranged for accommodation to isolate the Covid-19 patients and begin their treatment in Iran, said Feroz Khan, chief executive councillor, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil . “The doctors there will be Indian but it will be under the overall control of the Iranian government,” Khan added. He also said that those who tested negative will be flown to India in three batches in the following days. “After that, those who are positive might be flown to India in a separate sortie,” he added.
The foreign ministry has refused to confirm or deny the list of 254 individuals infected. When asked about Indian patients in Iran at the government briefing on Tuesday, Dammu Ravi, additional secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, said: “Of course in a situation like that, you will find some positive cases given the extensive spread of the virus in Iran. Rest assured that every care is being taken by the mission in cooperating and coordinating with the government of Iran for safety of Indians there.”
The Wire reportedly contacted the embassy official who sent the list to the WhatsApp group. According to the report, the official also refused to comment on the authenticity of the document or who he had received it from. “I was forwarded the document so I forwarded it,” he told the Wire.
Scroll.in has contacted the Ministry of External Affairs about the matter. The story will be updated if there is a response.
Anger over the evacuation delay
Most of the stranded pilgrims are quartered in hotels around the city of Qom, one of the worst hit places in Iran. With 14,991 infected cases, Iran has seen 853 deaths due to Covid-19, a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus.
On February 27, when India cancelled all flight operations from Iran, the pilgrims waited for embassy officials to help them out of the country. Doctors started taking samples in the first week of March and on March 10, a batch of 58 pilgrims were evacuated. Those who remained behind started protesting on March 12, when embassy officials told them only those who tested negative would be evacuated.
Pilgrims in Iran said that the test results had started arriving in batches days ago. But Indian embassy officials in Iran did not arrange quarantine facilities even though several had tested positive, they alleged.
“They just issued some verbal instructions asking us to isolate the Covid-19 patients from the others,” said one pilgrim, who wished to remain anonymous. “They haven’t even bothered to provide us with a single mask.”
Those who tested positive decided to go into self-quarantine. “Some of them are also going to Iranian hospitals for medical care,” the pilgrim added.
Khan and a delegation of leaders from Kargil have been trying to help the stranded pilgrims get medical care and be repatriated back to India. On Monday, they met Ali Chegeni, the Iranian ambassador to India, in New Delhi. They had also met India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar.
“We also had an interaction with India’s ambassador to Iran through video conferencing,” said Khan, who is still in Delhi. “We told them that some of them have been found Covid-19 positive and yet you didn’t isolate them. We also said that our people there aren’t willing to return to India and leave the positive cases behind in Iran.”