COVID-19: India accuses China of denying permission for relief flight

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China has allowed evacuation flights from other countries but has denied India the permission to  fly an aircraft carrying medical supplies to Wuhan, sources said on Saturday. The statement comes two days after the Ministry of External Affairs said that a C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft would carry medical supplies to COVID-19-hit Wuhan and evacuate Indians willing to return home.

“The Chinese side continues to maintain there is no delay, but inexplicably the clearance has not been given. Meanwhile, Indian nationals in Wuhan continue their long wait for the flight which will evacuate them to India, the delay is causing them and their family members in India tremendous mental anguish,” said an official source, confirming the brewing tension.

The Embassy of China said that Beijing attaches great importance to the health and safety of Indian nationals in China. Counselor Ji Rong, Spokesperson of the embassy here said, “The current epidemic situation in Hubei province is complicated, and the prevention and control of Covid-19 has entered into a critical stage.” However, an official source sharply questioned the Chinese diplomat’s explanation and pointed that Beijing has allowed flights from France, Japan and Ukraine to take off from Wuhan since February 16 whereas Indian proposal for the relief flight was sent on February 15. “If the work was not critical enough to stop or delay these flights, how did it suddenly become critical for the Indian flight?” asked the official.

India had sent two long-range civilian aircraft for the earlier sorties that evacuated 647 citizens and seven Maldivians. For the latest relief and evacuation attempt, it decided to send a U.S.-manufactured heavy lift C-17, which is the largest military transport aircraft in India’s possession. The Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs had informed that citizens of other countries would also be considered for evacuation depending on availability of space in the transport aircraft.

China has, meanwhile, allowed other countries to deliver relief and evacuation flights. “Why is the Chinese government delaying clearance for the relief flight? Are they not interested in Indian aid provided as our token of support? Why are they creating roadblock in evacuating our nationals from Wuhan and putting them under hardship and mental agony?,” asked the official.

Significantly, China too deployed its latest large Y-20 military transport aircraft earlier this month to bring medical supplies and personnel to the city of Wuhan. Apart from several Y-20 aircraft, Beijing also mobilised Il-76 and Y-9 aircraft for fighting the coronavirus crisis in Hubei province.

The Indian embassy in China had earlier asked citizens in Wuhan to be ready for evacuation on February 20 but sources in Wuhan informed that they have been asked to wait till further information.

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