By Aarti Tikoo Singh
New Delhi, Feb 22 (IANS) A week after India sought permission to send a special flight to deliver medical supplies and evacuate remaining Indian nationals from Wuhan, the epicentre of Covid-19 epidemic, China is yet to respond.
China permitted two special Air India flights to evacuate 647 Indians and seven Maldivians earlier this month.
Sources said India on February 13 had submitted its request for a third flight. An Indian Air Force’s largest plane C-17 Globemaster with medical supplies was to go to Wuhan and evacuate remaining Indian citizens and of the neighbouring countries.
The flight plan was provided to Chinese authorities on February 15 and the date of the flight proposed was February 20, sources said, adding that the permission hasn’t come yet.
Sources said, in between three flights of Japan, Ukraine and France have taken off from Wuhan on February 16, 19 and 20 respectively.
“The Chinese side is deliberately delaying the approval,” an official said.
However, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman on Saturday denied that there was any delay in granting the flight permission. “The competent departments on the two sides are still in communication regarding arrangements for the remaining 80 Indian nationals to be brought back.”
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, Ji Rong said, “The Chinese side always attaches great importance to the health and safety of Indian nationals in China, and provides assistance and convenience for the return of Indian citizens. The current epidemic situation in Hubei province is complicated, and the prevention and control of Covid-19 has entered into a critical stage. We are carefully assessing ground situation, as prevention work requires,” she said.
Indian officials in New Delhi are questioning the Chinese argument. “If the work was not critical enough to stop or delay three flights (Japan, France and Ukraine), how did it suddenly become critical for the Indian flight?” an official asked.
“Indian nationals are waiting to be brought back from Wuhan. The uncertainty is causing anxiety and mental stress. China should grant clearance to the relief flight which can bring the Indian nationals back,” another official said.
Sources said China may have withheld the permission for another special flight because of “pressure” from Pakistan which has been facing a lot of criticism at home for its inability to rescue its citizens from Wuhan promptly.