Hindustan Times, Beijing

Workers in protective suits sort luggage arriving from India at Ningbo Lishe International Airport in Zhejiang province, China, on September 10.(Reuters file)



Indian and Chinese officials are in communication on the issue of allowing Indians to return to China, the Chinese foreign ministry has said without elaborating on when special flights between the two countries are likely to resume.

The Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flights operating between India and China were abruptly suspended in the first week of November after 23 Covid-19 positive cases including 19 asymptomatic ones were detected on a flight from New Delhi to the city of Wuhan in central China.

China’s civil aviation ministry soon after suspended four more VBM flights that were scheduled to land in different Chinese cities in the following weeks; more than 1,500 Indians had registered for the scheduled VBM flights.

The Hindustan Times had reached out to the Chinese foreign ministry to ask whether VBM flights will be allowed to land in China anytime soon.

In a brief emailed statement in Mandarin, the ministry said China had to take necessary anti-epidemic measures after the second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak hit countries across the world.

“China and India are maintaining effective communication on personnel exchanges under the premise of strict epidemic prevention and control,” the foreign ministry statement to HT said.

It follows a statement issued by the Indian embassy in Beijing on December 3 that resumption of special flights depends on China.

“The movement of persons in India desiring to return to work abroad, including to China, has been similarly facilitated in recent months,” the embassy said.

“However, as a result of the restrictions imposed by the Chinese government on November 05, 2020 (“Notice on Temporary Suspension of Certain Valid Chinese Visas”), the operation of VBM flights to and from China has been affected,” it added.

The Indian embassy statement added that while it has received numerous requests from Indians wishing to return to China, “…this is a matter that is subject to a decision by the Chinese authorities”.

“For its part, the embassy is in constant touch with the Chinese side to work out a mutually acceptable mechanism that might lead to a resumption of VBM flights to China and will release information on the matter as soon as it is available,” the statement added.

The last VBM flight to China on October 30 brought in 277 Indians from Delhi and evacuated 157 on its return.

The future of thousands of Indian students – majority of the 23,000 who study in China – continue to be uncertain as well because Beijing is not allowing foreign students to return.

In a note to the Indian embassy earlier this year, China’s ministry of education (MoE) had said that “…Indian students should maintain close contact with relevant Chinese colleges and universities and arrange to study in China in strict accordance with the suggestions and guidance of the colleges/universities.”

While China has effectively contained the spread of Covid-19 within the country – except sporadic small-scale clusters – it reports a handful of “imported” cases daily.

China’s national health commission said on Saturday that it received reports of 17 newly confirmed Covid-19 cases on the Chinese mainland on Friday, two of which were domestically transmitted in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

“Fifteen cases were imported from outside the mainland and reported in Shanghai, Henan, Guangdong, Sichuan, Beijing, Shanxi, and Fujian,” the commission said in its daily report.

By the end of Friday, a total of 3,919 imported cases had been reported on the mainland.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases on the mainland reached 86,601 by Friday and 4,634 deaths have been caused by the virus.