276 Indians infected in seven foreign countries, with 255 in Iran: MEA

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on March 18, 2020 Published on March 18, 2020

Up to 276 Indians have been infected with Covid-19 in seven countries, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) informed Parliament.

This includes up to 255 Indians stuck in Iran, up to 12 in United Arab Emirates, five in Italy, and one patient each in Hong Kong, Rwanda, Kuwait and Sri Lanka.

Sources told BusinessLine that the 255 Indian infected pilgrims form a part of a larger group of 800 muslim pilgrims from Ladakh to the holy city of Qom in Iran. Additional Secretary Dammu Ravi, MEA, said that India will evacuate only those who have been tested negative for the virus.

In order to support countries like Italy and Iran who are lacking testing facility, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has flown in scientists to Indian embassies in order to test Indians that approach the embassies for Covid-19 testing.

“We have set up testing labs in the basements and parking lot of the Italian embassy. Our scientists are witnessing a huge number of Indians expressing interest in testing and evacuation. Similarly in Iran, while earlier the scientists were in Qom, there was disturbance in the area and then they had to set up a testing centre near Tehran airport,” said Balram Bhargava, Director, ICMR.

While evacuations are an ongoing process, MEA has not provided an estimate of how many Indians that are stuck abroad. While India has brought back over 765 Indian and foreign nationals from Wuhan in China, up to 120 passengers from cruise ship Diamond Princess stuck near Japanese shores, 389 Indians which includes close to 103 pilgrims from Iran and 301 Indians from Italy.

Noted Indian author Janice Pariat was unable to board her Alitalia flight from Rome to Delhi on March 11, because she could not furnish a Covid-19 certification demanded at the check-in counter basis the rules India has devised. She was stranded at the airport since the previous day from March 10 onwards. Pariat says, “I was asymptomatic. There were close to 40 other Indian passengers who were stopped from boarding. I tried to contact the Indian embassy but the officials told us to closely follow social media for any word on evacuations.”

Unable to wait at the airport, Pariat bought a 300 euro (₹ 24500) domestic ticket from Rome to Berlin. She later spent a day in Berlin and bought an India bound flight on Fin Air which stopped at Helsinki before landing to Delhi on March 15. “I have home quarantined myself for 14 days. I could take an alternative route and arrive in India but I am in touch with my fellow passengers there are many waiting to be evacuated in Italian cities of Rome, Milan, Genova, Florence yet,” Pariat told Businessline on March 16.

Another Indian student Pankaj Kumar could also not board his flight earlier on March 11 from Rome and had to return back to Florence. Pankaj later submitted his throat swab samples to Indian scientists on March 13. “I have been awaiting results on my test sample since five days. I am in touch with the Indian embassy and yet do not have clarity when I will be flown out to India,” Pankaj said.

After India revised it’s travel advisory to not allow passengers coming in from EU, EU Free Trade Association, UK and Turkey from March 18 to March 31, travellers who have already entered from EU barring Italy are being advised strict home quarantine and are not mostly being quarantined in government camps. “We have lightened our quarantine rules after travel restrictions on number of countries increased,” Bhargava confirmed.

Published on March 18, 2020
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