IAF evacuates first batch of Indian pilgrims from Iran

The first batch of 58 Indian pilgrims was brought back home from coronavirus-hit Iran on an Indian Air Force plane on March 10 after the number of infected people rose dramatically in the Islamic republic. Some 2000 Indians are reportedly stranded in the country following India’s temporary suspension of Iranian flights due to the virus outbreak. Although no Indian carrier flies to the country, Iran Air and Mahan Air operate five weekly flights to Mumbai and Delhi from Tehran. A C-17 Globemaster of the Indian Air Force was sent to Tehran from its Hindon airbase a day before to bring back the Indians.

IAF spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee said that 25 men, 31 women, and two children were brought back home and quarantined at a medical facility in Hindon. “The IAF has activated necessary medical protocols and has put required facilities in place to provide fellow citizens with adequate care and support,” a news report quoted him as saying.Responding to the development, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tweeted, “The IAF aircraft has landed. Mission completed. On to the next.” He said more Indians will be brought back home from Iran.

“Thanks to the efforts of our embassy in Iran and the Indian medical team there, operating under challenging conditions. Thank you IAF. Appreciate cooperation of the Iranian authorities. We are working on the return of other Indians stranded there,” Jaishankar tweeted.It was the second such evacuation of Indian nationals in the last two weeks. On February 27, 76 Indians and 36 foreign nationals were brought back from China’s Wuhan city by the C-17 Globemaster.

Iran has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of coronavirus cases over the past few days, with the official death toll rising to more than 100, though some news reports put the figure at close to 200, making it one of the severely affected countries after China and Italy. China has reported over 3,100 deaths while Italy has reported around 230 fatalities so far.

In India, more than 50 cases of coronavirus cases have been reported so far. Delhi has recorded the most number of cases at around 20, according to news reports. Fresh cases were also reported from Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra amid a subdued Holi celebration in the country. Several state governments have imposed restrictions on public gatherings. In Kerala, restrictions were imposed on all public events till 31 March, including shutting schools up to Class 7 and closure of cinema houses.

China has reported 19 new infections on March 10, a sharp drop from the thousands it reported each day last month. Italy, the most affected after China, witnessed over 230 deaths this week. The government has extended its travel restrictions, previously limited to the country’s north, to other areas, amid concerns of spreading the outbreak, news reports said. Also, neighboring Malta and Austria have closed their borders with Italy, while major carriers like British Airways canceled all flights to and from the country. Coronavirus cases were also reported from other parts of the world including France, Spain, Germany, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan, among others.

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