A Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flight from Delhi to Wuhan in China on Friday, October 30, 2020 is believed to have had as many as 39 passengers, including 19 Indians, who have tested positive for COVID-19.
A report datelined Beijing in The Hindustan Times said it had put a question mark on upcoming special flights to China including one to the same city slated for later this month. The newspaper said that 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 news reported.
Reacting to this news on Twitter, Sanjiv Kapoor, former chief strategy and commercial officer at Vistara and former chief operating officer at SpiceJet, said: “58 passengers out of 277 under the scanner, of which 19 have thus far tested COVID positive. Again, for a supposedly tested before departure group, this is alarming and raises questions on the testing and on the actual extent of spread of COVID in India. Maybe we are now immune?”
The Friday flight is the sixth VBM flight by Air India to China to help Indians stranded in both the countries to travel back to their destinations. Over 1,500 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 Hindustan Times said a 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.