A special flight of Air India today left for Wuhan city to evacuate hundreds of Indians from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in China’s central Hubei province, Indian Media reported.
People familiar with the plans said the first flight, the 423-seater AI 1348, on Friday is expected to ferry about 315 Indians from Wuhan and neighbouring areas. A second aircraft will be dispatched thereafter to bring back Indians from other parts of Hubei.
“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 chief executive and managing director Ashwani Lohani tweeted.
The Boeing 747 aircraft, which took off from Mumbai and made a brief halt in Delhi, is being flown by Captain Kamal Mohan and Captain S Reza with 15 crew members on board.
Five doctors from the Union health ministry and one paramedical staff will be onboard, on the flight which will be at Wuhan airport for two to three hours, officials said.
“No service will take place in the plane. Whatever food is there will be kept in seat pockets. As there will be no service, there will be no interaction (between cabin crew and passengers),” Lohani was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
“Masks have been arranged for the crew and passengers. For our crew, we have also arranged complete protective gear,” he added.
Health officials in China said that the death toll from the novel coronavirus outbreak has jumped to 213 across China with at least 42 new deaths reported from Hubei.
The number of infections in the country has crossed the 9000-mark with more 1200 new infections reported from Hubei. There are 5806 cases of the epidemic in Hubei alone,, provincial health officials said on Friday morning in the first update on the spreading virus.
The WHO early on Friday declared the ongoing outbreak that originated in China but has spread to at least 17 countries as an international public health emergency (PHEIC).
The Geneva-based organisation did not recommend any travel or trade restrictions on China.
The Indian embassy had circulated a message among Indians in Hubei via the messaging app WeChat on Thursday evening about the evacuation. It was circulated after China’s foreign ministry is learnt to have cleared India’s request to evacuate its citizens.
“We are preparing for air evacuation from Wuhan tomorrow in the evening. This flight will carry those Indian nationals who are in and around Wuhan and have conveyed consent for their evacuation,” the message said.
“There will be another flight subsequently which will carry those who are from other parts of Hubei province,” it added.
The embassy cautioned Indians in Hubei that details of the evacuation could change and the message was shared to alert them to be “adequately prepared”. It had asked Indians to be ready for a 14-day quarantine on return to India.