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Coronavirus outbreak: Air India pilots union sounds caution on Wuhan evacuation flights

MUMBAI: With Air India preparing to operate flights to evacuate Indians from Wuhan in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, a pilots’ union of the carrier has said the airline cannot afford any mistakes and risk spreading the infection.

In a letter to Air India chief Ashwani Lohani, the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) said the mission would be quite different from usual rescue and relief efforts and presents new challenges as well as obstacles to overcome.

“Due to the long incubation period of this virus, post-mission support for all personnel and equipment involved in this mission is crucial well after the completion of a flight,” it said.

The union has around 600 members.

Two flights are set to be operated to bring back Indian nationals from China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the Chinese government has been requested for permission to operate these two flights.

“Given the complex and dangerous nature of this situation, it would be best if the operating crew is accompanied by the ablest and most experienced members from relevant departments like engineering, commercial and medical to ensure the best on the ground support to accomplish this mission safely,” the union said.

Noting that the airline cannot afford any mistakes and risk spreading the infection, the union said meticulous screening and isolation protocols at both ends of the flight are required.

“All staff and operating crew involved in the exercise need to be given the best protective equipment available and training to keep all men and material safe during the flight,” it added.

As many as 132 people have died in China due to the outbreak and there are around 6,000 confirmed infections.