As many as 19 Indians tested positive for Covid-19 in a Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flight, which landed in the central Chinese city of Wuhan from New Delhi on Friday putting a question mark on upcoming special flights to China including one to the same city slated for later this month.
Among the 277 passengers who came on the flight, at least 39 were also suspected to be “potentially asymptomatic” Covid-19 patients as tests found antibodies in them.
All 58 passengers have been transferred to designated Covid-19 hospitals and quarantine zones.
The remaining passengers are currently undergoing the mandatory 14-day quarantine in designated hotels.
The 39 suspected asymptomatic patients with Covid-19 antibodies are likely to be released in a few days after being monitored.
It’s the largest number of Covid-19 positive cases for any VBM flight to China until now.
The Friday flight was the sixth VBM flight by Air India to China to help Indians stranded in both the countries to travel back to their destinations.
More than 1500 Indians are waiting to return to China in upcoming VBM flights expected over the coming weeks.
There is still no word from China when nearly 23000 Indian students studying here will be able to return.
The Delhi-Wuhan-Delhi flight was announced after the cancellation of the October 23 flight to Guangzhou in south China.
The large number of positive cases in the Air India VBM flight could lead to the postponement of the upcoming flight to Wuhan later this month.
India has sent a “request for approval” to Chinese authorities for next flight in November to land in Wuhan but is yet to get a response.
Receiving the required permission will not be easy — authorities in Ningbo in eastern China’s Zhejiang province had declined permission for a second VBM flight after a couple of passengers tested positive for Covid-19 for the first flight on September 11.
With the pandemic situation in China normalising, health authorities are focussing on controlling imported cases and localised clusters.
Until Friday, VBM flights to China have landed in Shanghai in eastern China, Guangzhou and Ningbo besides Wuhan.
As of September 14, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi had said all Indians flying to China on “irregular commercial flights, charter flights or special flights from India to China, double nucleic acid tests of Covid-19, in the labs authorised by the ICMR (Indian Council for Medical Research), the first within 120 hours (5 days) before boarding and the second within 36 hours before boarding” were mandatory.
“The negative report of the second nucleic acid test within 36 hours before boarding to China needn’t be sent to the Embassy or Consulates, and can be printed out together with the first negative report as well as the stamped Health Declaration Form by the passengers for the flight check-in and China Customs procedures, except otherwise required by the competent departments of the Chinese Government as individual cases.”
China’s civil aviation administration hasn’t permitted Air India’s VBM flights to land in Beijing as a precaution against, what Beijing calls “imported cases” of Covid-19.
The coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province, in late December before spreading across the country and then globally, triggering the worst pandemic in several decades .
India had dispatched three flights to Wuhan to airlift Indians stranded in the city when the virus was at its peak in the city in February this year.
China has brought the pandemic under control though local clusters have broken out in cities like Dalian, Qingdao, Urumqi and Kashgar in past weeks, triggering partial lockdowns and mass nucleic acid testing.
It has also placed strict measures to control imported cases including cancelling flights on routes where Covid-19 cases were reported.
On Monday, mainland China reported 24 new confirmed Covid-19 cases for Sunday, including three cases of local transmission in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and 21 cases from overseas, the national health commission (NHC) announced.
The NHC reported no new asymptomatic cases, down from 38 a day earlier. China does not count symptom-less patients as confirmed Covid-19 cases.
Total confirmed Covid-19 cases until Sunday in mainland China stand at 85,997. The death toll remains at 4,634.
With 21 new imported Covid-19 cases for Sunday, the total number of imported cases has risen to 3,401.
Of the new imported cases, six were reported in Shanghai, five in Guangdong, three each in Shanxi and Gansu, two in Sichuan, and one each in Tianjin and Jiangsu, the commission said in its daily report.