Coronavirus outbreak: IndiGo, Air India suspend most China-bound flights; no case in India yet

PTI New Delhi, India Jan 29, 2020, 09.21 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

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India has requested China for permission to operate two flights to bring back its nationals from Hubei Province, the epicentre of the outbreak, the Ministry of External Affairs said.

The only two Indian carriers that fly to China -- IndiGo and Air India-- on Wednesday announced suspension of most of their flights to the country which is battling a coronavirus outbreak, joining other airlines based in Asia, North America and Europe which have restricted operations to the region, as the deadly virus spread to at least 17 countries.

India has requested China for permission to operate two flights to bring back its nationals from Hubei Province, the epicentre of the outbreak, the Ministry of External Affairs said.

The Indian Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday circulated registration forms and consent notes for the Indians in Wuhan and Hubei province to be filled by them.

A fresh travel advisory asking people to refrain from travelling to China has been issued by the Centre which has ramped up screening across airports, ports and borders.

No case of the deadly virus has been reported in India, though hundreds remain in observation in many states including as many as 806 in Kerala, according to officials.

India's largest airline IndiGo said it has suspended its flights on Bengaluru-Hong Kong route from February 1 and on the Delhi-Chengdu route from February 1 to 20. Similarly, state-run Air India is suspending its flights on Delhi-Shanghai route from January 31 to February 14.

Also read: Coronavirus scare in India - Possible cases registered nationwide, infected Thai national dead in Kolkata

IndiGo will, for now, continue to operate the Kolkata-Guangzhou flight which it is "monitoring on a daily basis".

The crew of the two airlines working on flights connecting India with South-East Asian countries have been asked to wear N95 masks on the ground and take other precautions like not visiting public places.

British Airways, Indonesia's Lion Air Group, Cathay Pacific, United Airlines and Air Canada are among the carriers that have reportedly suspended or restricted flights to China, with many citing reductions in demand due to coronavirus outbreak.

The disease which emerged in Wuhan, capital of China's Hubei Province, has spread to at least 17 countries, with the United Arab Emirates announcing on Wednesday its first case of the new coronavirus in a family from Wuhan.

The death toll from the disease in China has mounted to 132 with about 6,000 confirmed infections.

The Union Health Ministry has asked people to use 24x7 helpline (011-23978046) for queries related to respiratory infection.

"In the view of the spurt of cases being reported in China and travel-related cases appearing in many countries...All non-essential travel to China to be avoided," it said.

As part of the preparedness, India has also increased the number of airports from seven to 21 where thermal screening of passengers is being done for possible exposure to the deadly nCoV.

Also read: Indian student from Wuhan in Ujjain hospital isolation ward for possible coronavirus infection

These include airports at Gaya, Guwahati, Visakhapatnam, Varanasi, Goa, Bhubaneswar and Lucknow besides the seven designated airports identified earlier.

The health ministry also has established four more laboratories apart from the NIV-Pune for testing samples. These labs have been made functional at Alleppey, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

Special Secretary in the Union Health ministry Sanjeeva Kumar chaired a video conference with health secretaries of states where the 21 identified airports are located along with the Airport Health Organization Officers (APHOs) to review their preparedness for prevention and management of novel coronavirus.

He also interacted with health secretaries of the states, including those bordering Nepal (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim), an official statement said.

The immigration and other staff members at the airports have been sensitized and dedicated ambulances are placed at the airports. Deployment of medical and para-medical staff is also being done for round-the-clock service, it said.

Meanwhile, India is placed at the 23rd place among "high-risk" countries where the disease can spread, according to a study based on the number of air travellers predicted to arrive in the countries from the worst affected cities in China.

Researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK compiled a list of cities and countries they believe are at high risk from the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
The most "at risk" countries or regions worldwide are Thailand (1), Japan (2), and Hong Kong (3). The US is 6th on the list, Australia 10th and the UK 17th.

Novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a large family of viruses that causes illnesses ranging from the common cold to acute respiratory syndromes. The virus, which has killed 132 people and affected at least 6,000 others in China, is a novel strain not seen before.

The AYUSH Ministry has also issued an advisory recommending that homoeopathic and Unani medicine could be effective in the prevention of novel coronavirus (nCoV) infection.

It also mentioned some Ayurvedic practices which can help recess the symptoms of the respiratory tract in possible coronavirus infected cases.

"The Ministry of AYUSH is issuing the advisory as a preventive measure and not claiming to be a treatment advice for the nCoV infection. The Research Councils under Ministry of AYUSH are involved in various public health activities and provide lifestyle advocacies time to time for the general public," the ministry said in a statement.