With the situation worsening in novel coronavirus-hit China, the central government is planning to evacuate Indians from the affected regions, including Wuhan in the Hubei province. An aircraft is also being kept on stand-by for the evacuation and officials say this will become possible only after Chinese authorities approve it.
Wuhan, the ground zero of the epidemic, and other affected regions in the neighbouring country are currently under lockdown by the authorities.
The decision to prepare for a possible evacuation of Indian nationals from Wuhan was taken at a high-level meeting chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba. Accordingly, the ministry of external affairs will make a request to the Chinese authorities. Top government sources said Gauba also held a high-level meeting to review preparedness to tackle the novel coronavirus outbreak in China.
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The plan for evacuation is in view of the increasing death toll and rise in number of infections reported in China. Secretaries in the ministries of health, external affairs, civil aviation, labour, defence, I&B and member-secretary, national disaster management authority, director general of armed forces medical services also attended the meeting.
The Cabinet Secretary was informed that till Sunday (January 26), 137 flights from China have been screened and 29,707 passengers have been tested for the deadly infection. Out of these passengers, samples of 12 passengers were referred to NIV Pune. No positive case has been reported in the country so far.
The meeting chaired by Gauba was informed that the ministry of civil aviation has issued instructions to airlines for managing and notifying anybody reporting illness on all flights with direct or indirect connectivity to China. They have been asked to facilitate in-flight announcements and distribute health cards to all flights with direct or indirect connectivity to China for self-declaration by passengers.
On its part, the ministry of shipping has also issued instructions to all port authorities to initiate entry screening at the international ports having traffic from China.
India on its toes after confirmed case in Nepal
Meanwhile, after a confirmed case of novel coronavirus was reported in Nepal, the central government on Monday (January 27) swung into action and called for immediate measures to step up vigil along the Nepal border.
Since travel between India and Nepal is not as restricted as in the case of other countries, bordering States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal, and Uttarakhand have been asked to screen visitors from Nepal for symptoms of novel coronavirus infection and also organise isolation wards as well as preventive gear if any such case is reported.
The ministry of home affairs informed that instructions have been issued to ensure integrated check posts initiate screening of visitors across Nepal border. Bordering States have been requested to provide health staff for these check posts. Sashastra Seema Bal, Border Security Force, and Immigration officers manning integrated check posts have been sensitised.
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Gauba was informed the health ministry has also held a review meeting on Monday with the chief secretaries to review preparedness and screening in five states having borders with Nepal. They have been asked to ensure that community-level monitoring of passengers is undertaken through health staff.
Top officials of these states have been asked to insist on self-reporting by those entering India from Nepal. These measures were finalised on Monday at a meeting convened by Preeti Sudan, secretary in the department of health and family welfare. She also chaired a video conference with chief secretaries and police department heads of the states bordering Nepal.
While health minister Harsh Vardhan is monitoring the situation on a regular basis, Sudan also interacted with health secretaries of states and union territories once again to review their preparedness for the prevention and management of coronavirus.
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According to a statement from the ministry of health and family welfare, top officials of the central government, including home secretary Ajay Bhalla, participated in the review meeting. ICMR, NDMA, ministries of civil aviation and shipping, representatives of port authorities also participated in the consultations.
States have also been asked to ensure that protocols for contact tracing, and timely collection and transportation of samples from suspected cases to NIV, Pune, is followed without fail. States need to assess the requirement of personal protection equipment, masks, etc and undertake necessary procurement to ensure sufficient supply, Preeti Sudan said during the consultations.