An Indian Air Force plane loaded with tonnes of medical supplies for the Chinese city of Wuhan hasn’t taken off yet due to a delay in clearances from Beijing, the external affairs ministry said on Thursday.
The government had earlier attributed the delay to a technical hitch. External affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told reporters at a weekly briefing that the hitch was the absence of approval from the Chinese government.
The government had expected to dispatch its largest transport aircraft, Boeing’s C-17 aircraft, to Wuhan on Thursday. On its return journey, the government plans to carry Indian nationals who had stayed back in Wuhan city, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, out of choice or circumstances.
Raveesh Kumar told reporters that the special flight with the relief package was being sent as a token of India’s support to China as they fight this outbreak. “We are actually awaiting the clearance to confirm from the Government of China. So, the moment the clearance comes, the relief flight will take off,” he said.
He was reluctant to spell out how many Indians and foreigners would be brought back. Foreign Minister S Jaishankar had earlier announced that New Delhi had offered to help evacuate nationals of India’s neighbours when the first two flights had gone. Only Maldives signed up for the offer; its seven nationals were among the 640-odd people brought back in the two flights.
Reports from Beijing indicate that 90 people have registered with the Indian mission to return in the IAF flight.
Kumar said India had received certain requests from other countries but declined to go public with the numbers or the countries that have sought Indian assistance at this stage.
The foreign ministry said the total number of foreign nationals who will be accommodated in the special plane would depend on the number of Indians who finally register.
“I really can’t disclose the numbers which we have. As I mentioned, we would be able to accommodate, subject to the capacity which is available. We have received certain requests but I think those will be out once we have a clearer picture as to how many among the Indian nationals have signed up to come back,” he said.