Fears of coronavirus continues to spread as newer cases are detected every day. As concerns loom large in Iran, a large number of Tamilians living in a section of the country working in the fishing and marine industry have asked for the Indian government to repatriate them.
The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has cancelled all flight operations from Iran. India has said that anyone having such travel history from Iran since February 10 may be quarantined for 14 days on arrival in India.
Jose, one of the people working in Chiruyeh, Iran, told TNM that there were estimated to be nearly 800 Indians in Chiruyeh and in nearby Kish Island, who work in the fishing industry. Of this, 350-400 people are estimated to be in Chiruyeh, and 300 are estimated to be on Kish Island.
In a video in which a group of Indians appeal for help, the person shooting the video can be heard saying, â€śFlights are cancelled. It is very difficult for us to go homeâ€ť.
â€śWeâ€™re here because thereâ€™s no way for us to leave,â€ť he added. They appealed to the President, the Prime Minister and the Indian Embassy to get them home. â€śPlease tell them to arrange a flight. They must reunite us with our families back home,â€ť the man can be heard telling the videoâ€™s viewers in the hope that the matter reaches the governmentâ€™s ears.
Jose said that there is fear about contracting the virus, and without flights, they have no means to get back.
â€śWe contacted the Indian Embassy here [Tehran] on Thursday afternoon and they have asked us to send an email with everyoneâ€™s details,â€ť Jose added.
Up until now, there are no known cases of Indians in Iran being infected. But all eyes are now on the country, with the virus spreading quickly and there being a significant increase in the number of cases. The Iranian Health Ministry says that coronavirus has claimed the lives of 26 people amid 245 confirmed cases. Iran Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour gave the new toll on Thursday in a televised news conference and said the large number in new cases came from more labs now testing for the virus. He said there could be other large increases in the coming days.
The additional cases made up the highest number for a single day since Iran announced its first cases on February 19. Among the latest sufferers of the new coronavirus is Mojtaba Zolnour, head of parliament's national security and foreign affairs committee. This announcement comes two days after another top official, deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi, head of the government's coronavirus task force, said he too had contracted the virus. Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, the deputy for womenâ€™s affairs in Iran, also has a confirmed coronavirus infection.
On Wednesday, Iranian authorities announced domestic travel restrictions for people with confirmed or suspected infections. They also placed curbs on access to major Shiite pilgrimage sites, including the Imam Reza shrine in second city Mashhad and the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom. Schools and universities have been shut for a few days, and Friday prayers were suspended.
International health experts have expressed concern about Iran's handling of the outbreak. But Tehran insists the situation has been "improving."
Given the death rate, there are fears that the number of cases in the country could be higher, according to reports.
The death rate is â€śreally quite high based on the China experience, and for early in the course of the epidemic is substantially high,â€ť said Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia told Wired.
Iran has been under sanctions from the US, and according to Human Rights Watch, it harms Iraniansâ€™ right to health. Research from a group of scientists and doctors from the University of Toronto published on February 25 showed that Iran is more likely to have nearly 18,300 cases.
Stating that it is likely that Iran is currently experiencing a COVID-19 epidemic of significant size, the research paper stated: â€śThis is concerning, both for public health in Iran itself, and because of the high likelihood for outward dissemination of the epidemic to neighbouring countries with lower capacity to respond to infectious diseases epidemics.â€ť
With inputs from PTI