New Delhi/Beijing, Feb 2 (IANS) India's evacuation of its nationals who were stranded in China's Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus epidemic, was completed on Sunday with around 650 people brought back in two phases.
The government also evacuated seven Maldivians along with 323 Indians from China, where the outbreak of 2019-nCoV has left over 300 people dead and 14,000 infected. A day earlier, Air India Boeing 747 had brought back 324 Indians from the region. In a tweet, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Sunday said that seven Maldivians were brought back along with Indian nationals because India cared for its neighbourhood. He tweeted, "#NeighbourhoodFirst at work again" tagging Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, former President Mohamed Nasheed and Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid.
One of the tenets of the Modi foreign policy doctrine has been 'Neighbourhood First'. While the US and several other countries are evacuating their own citizens, Pakistan has decided to leave its nationals stranded in Wuhan. India has however decided to help its allies who are unable to evacuate their citizens in the region.
Indian Ambassador to China, Vikram Misri in a tweet said that his team mounted a non-stop, almost 96-hour-long operation to coordinate a complex airlift under challenging circumstances for the passengers, with local authorities in Hubei province. He thanked his team members especially Deepak Padmakumar and M. Balakrishnan for showing "exemplary fortitude and a real spirit of public service by travelling to ground zero in Wuhan to coordinate airport arrangements."
Official sources said as of now the evacuation process is "complete" even as six Indians down with fever and other flu-like symptoms, could not board the second Air India flight on Sunday.
"We had planned to send two flights of Boeing 747 and they have as per the plan evacuated around 650 Indians on two consecutive days.
However, six people had to be left behind because the consent forms which all the evacuees signed beforehand, explicitly required everyone to get a medical clearance after a basic screening," an official told IANS.
Wuhan city of Hubei province in central China with 11 million population has been placed under a lockdown, since the outbreak of the 2019-nCoV. There is no official figure of Indians living in Wuhan.
However, the government had shared consent forms with several Indian groups online and required them to sign conditional evacuation. Apart from a mandatory quarantine on their arrival in India, the government had mentioned that evacuation of an individual could be rejected on the basis of a preliminary medical examination. Official sources in Beijing said that some Indians on their own refused to return to India. "Some students didn't want to waste their time and resources in going back and forth and suffer on account of their studies. Others were too fearful of catching the coronavirus infection during the evacuation process," a source said.
In New Delhi, sources said, the government will closely monitor the outbreak of the virus which has already spread to all other provinces of China. As per rough estimates, around 50,000 Indians live in China, with many of them studying medicine.