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Coronavirus: Over 50,000 Indians stuck in China

By Neha Alawadhi and Subhayan Chakraborty
February 14, 2020 12:31 IST
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While many are getting stranded because of lack of clarity regarding the visa rules following the novel coronavirus outbreak, others are stranded in transit as even OCI cardholders are being turned away. Neha Alawadhi and Subhayan Chakraborty report.

IMAGE: A Chinese woman wears a protective mask as she waits for a bus at a usually busy stop in Beijing, China. As of Friday, the toll in China's novel coronavirus outbreak has spiked to nearly 1,500, while the confirmed cases of infection jumped to nearly 65,000. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

With the government denying them entry via any air, land or seaport, as many as 55,000 non-resident Indians and people of Indian origin are stuck in several parts of China where the coronavirus outbreak has claimed nearly 1,400 lives, multiple sources said.   

India had recently evacuated over 640 of its citizens from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. Yet, around 80-100 Indians are stranded in the city and nearby areas.  

 

The Indian embassy in Beijing estimates more than 50,000 Indian citizens to have been working in mainland China as of early 2019.

Besides, there are also no clear guidelines for Overseas Citizenship of India cardholders. Erring on the side of caution, airport and immigration officials in other countries are not allowing OCI cardholders to travel to India, even though the Indian notification on coronavirus only mentions invalidating e-visas. As a result, families stuck in transit have been hit the hardest. 

Officials at the department of overseas affairs said no guidelines for Indians living in China are planned yet.

There have also been cases of people getting stranded because of lack of clarity regarding the visa rules following the novel coronavirus outbreak. The health ministry had cautioned people visiting China to strictly avoid locals with signs of fever, besides suggesting other preventive tactics as early as  January 11. So far, there is no official travel advisory from the ministry of external affairs and this has led to confusion over international travel.

According to a person familiar with a specific case, a family of four was stranded last week at an airport in Ethiopia on their way back from a vacation in South Africa. The Indian man, his Chinese wife, and two children were returning to China, but given the situation there, they decided to travel to India.

They had a layover at the Ethiopian airport, where they were initially cleared by immigration, but later deplaned because officials said all e-visas to India have been cancelled. However, the wife holds an OCI card. Despite repeated requests and calls and communication with India's home ministry, the family remain stranded at the Ethiopian airport. It could not be confirmed if the situation was resolved.  

Similarly, a person of Chinese origin from Hong Kong who has been staying in Geneva for the last five years was scheduled to travel to India for a technology conference in Mumbai. However, he was not allowed to apply for an Indian visa because of lack of clarity in the visa advisory.  

A revised travel advisory posted by the health ministry on its Twitter page on February 5, however, stated the revocation doesn't apply to Chinese passport holders in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, according to reports.  

On the few Facebook groups of Indians in China, several members have been asking about the situation there and whether travel was advisable to the country or not. However, most social media conversation in China happens on WeChat because Facebook, Twitter and other similar online platforms do not work in the country.

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Neha Alawadhi and Subhayan Chakraborty in New Delhi
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