A scientist from the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune has been sent to Iran to facilitate testing of stranded Indian citizens for coronavirus infection. An estimated 1,200 Indians remain in Iran, unable to return after the Indian government prohibited flights operating to and from the Middle Eastern country. Until Tuesday, 77 deaths and over 2,336 cases had been recorded there.
“The scientist has been sent to facilitate the return of Indian citizens. They will be tested for coronavirus in Tehran and isolated if required,” said a government official, adding that plans are underway to bring Indians back from Iran.
Two airlines, Iran Air and Mahan Air, have stopped operating flights to Delhi and Mumbai since February 28 after India prohibited flights from Iran as a precautionary measure against coronavirus. The WHO sent a team of experts on March 2 to review health infrastructure, laboratories and help Iran fight the virus.
Mumbai-based tour operator Mohsin Ali said 12 pilgrims under his tour package remain in Qom, considered a holy city by Shia pilgrims, after their flight was cancelled on February 28. “They had reached Tehran to catch a morning flight to Mumbai. The night before the flight, the airlines informed them that India had prohibited flights from Iran. They had to return to Qom,” Ali said.
Qom was the first city to record the Covid-19 outbreak in Iran, and every day fresh cases are being diagnosed. Fifty people have died due to the infection. Ali said he has placed all 12 pilgrims in Tashrifat hotel, 200 metres from Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom, where pilgrims visit from all over the world. “They go to the shrine every day as they have nothing else to do. There is no quarantine in the hotel. They fear they may catch infection,” Ali said, adding, “The Indian Embassy in Tehran has stopped responding to queries.”
Anwaar Khan from Nagpur, whose parents and sister are in Iran, has tweeted to Union ministers for help. In a tweet, Dhamu Gaddam, India’s ambassador to Iran, said discussions are underway to make arrangements for Indians wishing to return home.
“Every day we call the embassy for help. Till now, there is no clarity on how long it will take the Indian government to bring us back,” Kesar Tabassum, Khan’s sister, told.She said her father’s stock of medicines for heart ailment has run out and there is panic around them over coronavirus. “My mother has difficulty walking. We came here for a 10-day pilgrim trip. Since four days, we are desperately trying to return. All neighbouring countries have sealed their borders with Iran. We can’t cross the border to take an onward flight,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Mumbai, the civic body has prepared four more hospitals — Kurla Bhabha, Bandra Bhabha, Rajawadi and Jogeshwari Trauma hospital — for quarantining patients in case capacity of the nodal facility in Kasturba hospital becomes full. Dr Pradeep Awate, Maharashtra state epidemiologist, said preparations are being made to stock protective gear for healthcare workers in case of an outbreak.
A spokesperson for the External Affairs Ministry said, “At this point, we are in touch with the Indian nationals there and the Iran government. All options to bring them back are being looked into.