Had offered to bring back Pakistani citizens as well from Wuhan: Jaishankar tells Rajya Sabha
New Delhi, Feb 07: India has cancelled all visas issued to foreign nationals coming from China as it stepped up efforts to combat the spread of novel coronavirus after 150 passengers were identified with symptoms of the deadly virus and sent to isolation units.
Making a suo motu statement in Rajya Sabha, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the government has asked people not to travel to China - the epicentre of the deadly virus, and will mandatorily quarantine anyone returning from China.
Screening of passengers has been stepped up at 21 airports as well as 12 major seaports and all minor ports. Also, screening is being done at all integrated check posts on the Nepal border after the Himalayan nation reported a confirmed case.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said there are an estimated 80 Indian students remaining in Wuhan. Of them, 10 students who came to the airport were running fever and were not allowed to board the special Air India flight by the Chinese authorities. The remaining 70 had voluntarily stayed back.
When MPs asked if Pakistan had sought Indian help in evacuating its citizens from China, he said the offer was made to all neighbours and only Maldives choose to avail it.
"Regarding Pakistan, at the time when our two flights were going, we had told all the students and the larger community in Wuhan that we were prepared not only to bring back our own people but all people in our neighbourhood who would like to come back.
"This was an offer which was made to all our neighbours but of them 7 students of Maldives chose the offer. But I would like members to know that offer was made to everybody," Jaishankar said.
While the Cabinet Secretary is taking daily reviews with all related ministries, a Group of Ministers comprising the Cabinet Ministers for External Affairs and Civil Aviation and the Ministers of State for Home, Shipping and Health and Family Welfare has been constituted to monitor the situation.
"As of today, a total of 1,275 flights have been screened covering a total of 1,39,539 passengers, and 150 passengers identified with symptoms have been referred to isolation facilities," the Health Minister said.
Detailing steps taken to check the spread of coronavirus, Vardhan said the first advisory was issued on January 17 and the travel advisories are accordingly getting revised as situation evolves. "Presently, existing visas (including eVisa already issued) are no longer valid for any foreign national travelling from China. People have already been advised to refrain from travelling to China through an earlier advisory. People travelling to China henceforth will be quarantined on return," he said.
"People having compelling reasons to visit India are asked to contact the Indian embassy in Beijing or consulate in Shanghai or Guangzhou," the minister added. Vardhan informed that the screening of passengers has been done since January 18. "Initially airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru , Hyderabad and Kochi were covered and subsequently expanded to a total of 21 airports.
Universal thermal screening has been made mandatory for all flights from Singapore and Thailand besides Hong Kong and China and these flights will park at earmarked aero-bridges to facilitate screening," he added. Signages have been displayed at prominent places in airports and ports, in-flight announcements are being made and self-declaration forms are being filled up by all passengers.
Stating that three positive cases have been reported so far in India, all from Kerala, Vardhan said, "All these cases have a travel history from Wuhan, China. They have been isolated and are reported to be clinically stable." Besides screening incoming passengers, India has evacuated 647 Indians and 7 Maldivian nationals from China.
"After the evacuation, the people are presently undergoing quarantine at special facilities created by the Indian Army in Manesar and by Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) in Chawla Camp," he said, adding 10 of the evacuees who were symptomatic have been shifted to isolation facilities. All of them have tested negative and are stable, he added.
Vardhan asserted that the ever increasing magnitude of this outbreak calls for a concerted effort by not only health ministry but all sectors of government. He said screening of passengers has been initiated in 12 major seaports and all minor ports in the country to identify passengers & crew coming from China and to isolate them in case they are found symptomatic.
With reports of a confirmed case in Nepal, Vardhan said the Indian government has initiated screening in all integrated check posts from Nepal. "Regular surveillance has been initiated across the country for all cases having travel history from China and for people having contact with such persons and having fever, cough or breathlessness.
Through Integrated Disease Surveillance network all such persons are tracked and presently we are following 6,599 passengers across 29 States/UTs in the community," Vardhan said, adding that 305 symptomatic travellers have been referred to isolation facility and are being monitored.
Vardhan said China on December 31 reported an outbreak of coronavirus that was initially noticed in seafood market in Wuhan city in Hubei province in early December and spread to all provinces of China. As on February 6, a total of 31,161 confirmed cases and 636 deaths have been reported in China.