Coronavirus: With no Facebook and Twitter to connect, here’s how 647 stranded Indians in China were contacted

FE Online
Coronavirus outbreak, Coronavirus death toll, Coronavirus in china, Coronavirus cases, National Health Commission, Hong Kong

The humongous mission to evacuate 647 odd Indian nationals from the Hubei province due to Coronavirus scare came to a cropper when officials tried to contact the stranded Indians. With a population of 5 crore, tracing 700 individuals settled in wide swathes of the province was a hard nut to crack amidst severe transport lockdown enforced by the Chinese authorities. The problem arose as the Indian nationals living in China do not need to register at the embassy. Helpline numbers issued on social media sites remained inaccessible to most Indians as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.

This is when a young crop of Indian diplomats suggested that Chinese chatting app WeChat be used to communicate with the evacuees. Multiple WeChat groups followed with messages promising help to the scared individuals confined in their homes without bare essentials. By January 26, the Indian embassy officials were able to trace all the Indians seeking evacuation from the province, the Indian Express reported. Multiple logistic challenges remained coupled with obvious health risks involved in the mission. Bringing all Indians to the Wuhan airport from areas as far as 400 km from the airport remained a tough challenge as authorities did not allow any vehicles to ply in the province.

Multiple channels at different levels were opened by Indian officials ranging from the provincial government to the city authorities. Delay in getting permission from Chinese authorities at multiple levels delayed the evacuation further. A total of 40 Indian diplomats worked ceaselessly at a stretch for 96 hours in the mission. One Indian diplomat along with Chinese officials was lodged in each of the vehicles that were allowed to ferry the Indian nationals to the airport. The hard work and planning came to fruition on January 31st when the first batch of 324 Indians got airlifted in an Air India plane less with doctors and trained crew members. The second batch of 323 Indians left a day later on February 1.