The Economic Times
English EditionEnglish Editionहिन्दी
| E-Paper
Search
+

    Indians at the covid epicentre: Locked out, confused & waiting to come home

    Synopsis

    Many students ET spoke with feared they would be left to the mercy of the already-overburdened Italian healthcare system if they test positive. The ministry of external affairs, though, confirmed regular evacuations. On Sunday, 218 Indians — including 211 students from Milan — landed in New Delhi, according to the ministry, all of whom will be quarantined for 14 days.

    Getty Images
    Thousands of miles away, in Iran, the Indian community, though only around 6,000-strong, is deeply impacted.
    Coronavirus

    COVID-19 CASES

    Confirmed
    10,610,883
    Deaths
    152,869
    NEW DELHI: Some stories of Indians stuck in the locked-down Covid-19 epicentres of Italy and Iran read like a cruel turn of fate. Their wait for the Indian government’s evacuation operation gets agonising by the day, the problem compounded by their sheer numbers, which makes it difficult to get the requisite medical clearances to return, and results in information fog.

    Many students ET spoke with feared they would be left to the mercy of the already-overburdened Italian healthcare system if they test positive.

    The ministry of external affairs, though, confirmed regular evacuations. On Sunday, 218 Indians — including 211 students from Milan — landed in New Delhi, according to the ministry, all of whom will be quarantined for 14 days.

    On Saturday, 234 Indians stranded in Iran too had returned, including 131 students and 103 pilgrims. “In the next few days, we are evacuating again from Iran and Italy,” an external affairs ministry spokesperson told ET late on Sunday.

    One among the Indians stuck in Italy is a pregnant woman, who spoke to ET but declined to be named. The woman, who is in her first trimester and in severe pain, fears she may lose her baby. Fear of exposure to Covid-19 and long queues at hospital emergency rooms is keeping her from hospitals. She said she is uncertain when she will be able to return.

    IIT-Delhi alum Nand Kumar Kurup went to SDA Bocconi School of Management, Milan, in 1997 for an MBA. He never returned – and now can’t leave. In 2007, he chose the financial capital of Italy to set up his own B2C fashion business. Today, Milan and the province of Lombardy where it is located, are the epicentres of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak. Kurup is also cut off from his family as his wife is visiting India and daughters are studying in London. He says many thousands of Indian students in Italian universities are waiting to be evacuated.

    On March 10, Covid-19 certificate was made mandatory to travel from Italy to India, delaying many students flying by Air India. However, several other airlines — such as Emirates, Alitalia and EgyptAir —may not have strictly enforced this. Students aboard such flights made it back, while those travelling by Air India were held back for the certificate.

    In Rome, Masters student Poorna Chandrakanth spoke of two friends who were told by the embassy that they could “probably” leave.

    On the morning of the journey, despite Air India’s message that the flight was delayed by two hours, the students reached the airport. But there, Air India officials said they would not be allowed to fly back without a Covid-19 certificate.

    The students, many of whom had given up their accommodation, remained stranded at the airport until the Indian embassy arranged accommodation. They fear the exposure may have left them infected.

    “We just want to come back to our homeland, not even our homes. We are ready for any quarantine wherever you want. If we get infected here, nobody will take care of us,” said Chandrakanth.

    On March 13, the Indian embassy arranged for samples to be taken from these students, though the results may take a week.

    “There’s a huge rush among students in Milan and Rome to get the mandatory medical tests done and then get airlines bookings to go back,” says Abhishek Lokhande, a postgraduate student from Hyderabad enrolled at the University of Sapienza in Rome.

    “The Indian government’s medical team is due to arrive in Milan soon to evacuate several students who are stranded at the airport,” said Phaniram Varma from Hyderabad, who is a postgraduate student of industrial automation engineering at the University of Pavia, some 30 km from Milan.

    “Pavia is in lockdown. The only trips are to the supermarket, where we have to wait in queue with 1 metre distance between us. Only 10 people can enter the store at a time,” said Varma, whose two Indian flatmates left Italy before the lockdown was declared on March 9. “It’s impossible to get a medical certificate here since doctors and hospitals are hard-pressed treating hundreds of patients.”

    Northern Italy has a large Indian population — agricultural workers from Punjab, Gujarati business families and university students. The total number of Indians in Italy has been estimated at 200,000 by the ministry of external affairs, which is the largest Indian diaspora in Continental Europe. Sukhdev Singh Kang, who runs a languages translation agency in Brescia since 2009 and is a Sikh community leader, feels unhappy because the local gurdwara, a hub for the Punjabi community, has been shut down, along with all other religious establishments.

    Prashant Kachave, son of a Maharashtrian farmer and a postgraduate student in petroleum science at the University of Perugia, near Rome, came on a scholarship. He has another worry. “I fear I will be ostracised if I return to India from Italy now,” he said.

    Chetan Abhishek, another postgraduate student at the University of Sapienza in Rome, was waiting for his degree in product design on March 10 and hence didn’t join many of his friends who were leaving.

    “But now, things are looking bad and many are stranded at the Rome and Milan airports; it may be a week or two before I can leave,” he says.

    “I was waiting for some important documents from the Italian government and hence couldn’t leave when my three Indian flatmates left early this month. Now, there’s a huge rush among students in Milan and Rome to get the mandatory medical tests done and then get airlines bookings to go back,” says Lokhande.

    Thousands of miles away, in Iran, the Indian community, though only around 6,000-strong, is deeply impacted. Bhai Ganga Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Tehran, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi had offered prayers during his visit of 2016, is deserted. “No one has been coming here for the last few weeks. I’m the jathedar and my duty is to stay on guard so I’m the only person here. All other members of the Sikh community are forced to stay at home by government order,” says Nirbhaya Singh.

    Indian passport holders, many of whom travel to Tehran and other cities in Iran on business trips, along with students, find themselves stuck as flights have been cancelled.

    (Catch all the Business News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on The Economic Times.)

    Download The Economic Times News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.

    3 Comments on this Story

    mathew mathunny311 days ago
    fiction writers both these reporter's. they should have begun the story Once upon a time in a land far far away𠤣𠤣
    Jagdip Vaishnav311 days ago
    Govt has taken and is taken prompt, effective action.
    Rahul 311 days ago
    People keep eye on your surrounding area. If you see sick please tell them to visit their doctor. If they reject inform police. Let the police handle these people.
    The Economic Times