China delaying permission to India to send plane to Wuhan
New Delhi: China is "deliberately delaying" permission for an Indian Air Force plane to coronavirus-hit Wuhan to supply relief materials and bring back more Indians from the city, official sources said on Saturday.
India submitted its request with Chinese authorities on February 13 for the C-17 military transport aircraft while the flight plan was submitted on February 15 with a proposal mentioning February 20 as its date of departure, they said.
When contacted, a Chinese Embassy spokesperson said there was no deliberate delay in grant of permission for the Indian plane to reach Wuhan, adding China always attaches great importance to health and safety of Indian nationals in living in the country.
"China is deliberately delaying grant of clearance for the evacuation flight," a high-level source said and questioned why the permission was not granted when flights from Japan, Ukraine and France operated from Wuhan between February 16 and 20.
India has already evacuated around 640 Indians from Wuhan in two separate flights. According to estimates, over 100 Indians are still stuck in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in China.
Government sources said Indian nationals stuck in Wuhan are waiting to be brought back home and the uncertainty over the evacuation is causing them mental stress and anxiety.
The aircraft was to carry a large consignment of medical supplies to China as well.
The sources said while the Chinese side continues to maintain that there was no delay in granting permission for the flight to go, the clearance has "inexplicably" not been given.
"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," Chinese Embassy Spokesperson Ji Rong said.
"Competent departments of the two countries are keeping communication and coordination in this regard. There is no such thing as China deliberately delaying granting flight permission," she said.
The death toll in coronavirus in China has gone up to to 2,345 while the confirmed cases have risen to 76,288, Chinese health officials said on Saturday.
In a letter to President Xi Jinping earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed India's solidarity to the people and government of China in meeting the challenge of the coronavirus outbreak and offered to provide assistance to the country.
India then put together relief supplies in pursuance of Modi's commitment as a token of India's solidarity, particularly in the 70th year of the anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
"These supplies have been offered even as India faces tremendous shortage itself, given our ethos of helping others in their hour of need," said a source aware of the issue.
The items being supplied are gloves, surgical masks, feeding pumps and defibrillators based on the requirements as indicated by the Chinese side.
A sizeable number of countries have evacuated their citizens from China and restricted movement of people and goods to and from the country in view of the massive outbreak of coronavirus there.
Sources said Indian nationals in Wuhan continue their long wait for the flight, adding the delay is causing them and their family members in India tremendous mental anguish.
They said relief and evacuation flights from other countries including by France are allowed to operate by China but the permission has not come through in India's case.
"Are they not interested in Indian aid provided as our token of support? Why are they creating roadblock in evacuating our nationals from Wuhan and putting them under hardship and mental agony?" said a person aware of the issue.