Many are struggling without food and have sent a desperate appeal to the Indian government for help
Around 1000 Indian fishermen and workers, including some 600 from Tamil Nadu, 300 from Gujarat and some 20 from Kerala, are stranded in Coronavirus-hit Iran, without knowing when they can return home safely.
“Our only plea to the government is to rescue us. It is a scary situation. We don’t have masks or any other medicines to combat the deadly virus,” Wilson R, a Keralite fisherman from Chiruyeh at Hormozgan province in Iran, told The Lede.
Wilson belongs to the Thiruvananthapuram coast area. And according to him, the majority of the Keralite and Tamilian fishermen belong to the coastal areas of south Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
In Iran, so far, Coronavirus has claimed 43 lives and around 600 are infected. Iran has shut down schools, universities, and other education centers, and canceled all the public gatherings like concerts and sports events to help curb the spread of the disease.
However, quoting health officials in Iran, BBC Persian reported that at least 210 people in Iran have died as a result of the coronavirus disease.
The BBC Persian report revealed that most of the victims are from Tehran and Qom.
Meanwhile, responding to BBC story, Iran’s Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour insisted it was being transparent and accused the BBC of spreading lies.
There are also unconfirmed reports that an Iranian member of parliament had died on Saturday after becoming infected with coronavirus, one of nine new fatalities.
The reports say that several, including a vice president, the deputy health minister, and five MPs, have tested positive for the virus as the outbreak forced the regime to close the parliament and impose internal travel bans.
Iran has the highest number of deaths from Coronavirus outside China. Globally, the Coronavirus, which was reported first at Wuhan province in China on December 31, 2019, has so far claimed around 3000 lives and there are around 90,000 people infected.
Out of the 90,000, some 80,000 cases were reported from China.
“We had sent an SOS message to the Indian embassy officials. They had told us to wait. We heard that they are planning to bring in a ship or an aircraft to evacuate us from Iran,” Wilson said.
On Friday, Indian civil aviation had suspended all flight operations of Mahan Air and Iran Air to India because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Mahan Air and Iran Air were the two Iranian airlines that operate several weekly flights to Indian cities of Mumbai and New Delhi.
And additionally, many airlines, especially those flying from Arab Gulf countries to Iran, have halted their services. Indians mainly depended on those connection flights.
“Most probably it is going to be a ship as the number of stranded is high. And we will be able to have a clear picture of the evacuation by Monday or Tuesday,” Wilson added.
Wilson and his friends had migrated to the United Arab Emirates as fishermen and then were moved to Iran by the company in the Emirates.
Talking to The Lede, Ouseph, a Keralite fisherman in Iran, said that they are not getting food either.
“We were not getting paid decently. So we denied to go fishing. Eventually, the Arab employer stopped providing us food. Now, there is a scare of Coronavirus too. We don’t have food, proper shelter or even masks. It is a scary situation,” Ouseph said.
The fishermen get 50% of the catch as salary and the majority of them had moved to Iran during the mid and end of 2019.
According to Shan, another Keralite fisherman, Tamil fishermen had sought help much before and have prepared a list of those who have to be evacuated.
“We Keralites here, even don’t know how many from our state are stranded here. We don’t have a list too. We don’t know whom to approach. Our plea is that government rescue us without much delay,” Shan said.
On Friday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had written to Indian MEA Minister Dr S Jaishankar seeking help to evacuate the Tamil fishermen.
And on the same day, Tamil Nadu Minister for Fisheries and Personnel and Administrative Reforms D Jayakumar had also said in a press statement that they will approach the Ministry of External Affairs to bring back the Tamil fishermen.
According to Shan, the Coronavirus-hit area is some four to five hours of travel from the place they stay.
“However, we are worried. If the virus spreads, we know that we won’t get any proper medical attention. Even the mosques and schools are shut down. Nobody is there to seek help from,” Shan added.
Meanwhile, Wilson said that a few Indian fishermen who had come from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Iran were stopped from reentering the UAE.
“We heard that they were stopped by UAE coast guards. We don’t know what happened then,” Wilson added.
According to Wilson, the Tamil and Gujarati fishermen have a list with them but Keralites don’t.
“We only know that there are a lot of Keralite fishermen. But don’t know their names and whereabouts. We are now coordinating with the Church in Thiruvananthapuram to prepare a list,” Wilson added.
Wilson raised a concern that as they are poor workers, they will be ignored in getting protection and treatment if they are hit by Coronavirus.
None of the fishermen even knows whether they are on a job visa or a visit visa.
Meanwhile, Huda Fayaz, a Kashmiri medical student at Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS) campus in Kish, told The Lede that the embassy has started coordinating their evacuation.
“We have learned that the Indian and Iranian government is holding talks to evacuate us without much delay. Soon, we will be able to fly back home,” Huda said while thanking The Lede.
The Lede first reported Indian medical students’ dire situation in Iran.
However, Qurat, a Kashmiri student from Tehran, said that on the ground, nothing has happened so far.
“Japanese and Italians got evacuated during the past two days. We Indians are still stuck here. We are hearing that talks are going on, but when will the action happen?” Qurat asked.
“We book flights in the morning only to learn that by evening, they get canceled. But as said in the Quran, we remain hopeful. So we again book flights, even if it gets canceled. We are hopeful but at the same time sad too,” Qurat added.
Around 250 Indian students are studying in TUMS. According to students, they are lacking masks.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Qasem Janbabaei had issued a letter to heads of all medical universities stating that all Iranian hospitals should refrain from admitting non-emergency patients and focus on coronavirus patients.
He also has added that any refusal to treat patients by medics will entail legal prosecution.
In the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (WHOEMRO), the number of confirmed cases is 172 and the majority of the cases has some Iran connection.
Even though Saudi Arabia has not reported any confirmed cases, as a precautionary measure, the Kingdom has temporarily banned entry to tourists from coronavirus-affected countries and visitors. The coronavirus measures taken by Saudi Arabia have affected pilgrim visits to Mecca and Medina too.
Inbound and outbound travel restrictions have also been announced to apply to Saudi nationals as well as citizens of Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries.
In Bahrain, there are 41 confirmed cases. The majority of the Coronavirus-infected in Bahrain were passengers who arrived from Iran. Bahrain has also started monitoring passengers arriving from Coronavirus-affected countries and has suspended flights to and from Dubai and Sharjah as a preventive measure.
Self-isolation is mandated to citizens and residents arriving from Iran. Bahrain has also ordered the closure of schools, universities, and nurseries for two weeks as a preventive measure.
Kuwait has reported a total of 45 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. The cases have been reported among 700 people evacuated from the Mashhad city in Iran. The first three patients who tested positive for the virus are in stable condition.
In the UAE, there are 21 confirmed coronavirus cases. The first coronavirus case in UAE was confirmed on 29 January in a family of four who arrived from Wuhan. The remaining three also tested positive for the virus later.
The UAE has also suspended all flights to and from China, Iran, and Thailand since the outbreak. It is also screening all passengers arriving from affected regions.
Oman has reported coronavirus infection in two women who entered Iran. The patients are reported to be in stable condition. The country has since suspended all civilian flights to Iran. The number of confirmed cases in Oman is six.
In Qatar also, the first coronavirus case was reported on 29 February in a 36 year old male who recently returned from Iran.
Iraq confirmed its first coronavirus infection on 24 February in an Iranian student in Najaf city. Four more cases were reported on 25 February in Kirkuk near Baghdad of a family who recently returned from Iran. Iraq has since banned the entry of foreign nationals and closed its borders to Iran and Kuwait.
The first coronavirus-infected in Israel were among 11 evacuees who were onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The infected are being treated at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.
In Lebanon, a 45-year-old woman who arrived in Beirut from Iran was reported to be the first confirmed case in the country. The total number of confirmed cases in Lebanon is four.
Meanwhile, on March 01, the US confirmed its first death due to Coronavirus. The deceased was in his 50s and was from Seattle, Washington. He was said to have other health conditions. The death was conveyed to county health officials on February 28.
Considering the increasing number of cases in South Korea, Iran, and Italy, the US has increased its travel restrictions to the regions.
The US has extended the travel ban to any foreign nationals who have a travel history to Iran in the past 14 days, along with the Iranian nationals.
Additionally, the country has also issued a Level 4 travel advisory, the highest level, to Italy and South Korea. There is a total of 71 confirmed cases in the US, with 44 cases among repatriated citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
And a passenger from the Diamond Princess cruise ship has died in Australia, the country’s first Coronavirus death case.
The 78 year old man was repatriated from the cruise ship last month. It is reported that his wife also tested positive and is currently stable.
Australia’s Department of Health has confirmed two additional cases of Coronavirus in the country, bringing the country’s total to 27.
Coronavirus is a zoonotic one. From phylogenetics analyses undertaken with available full genome sequences, bats appear to be the reservoir of Coronavirus virus, but the intermediate host(s) has not yet been identified.
However, three important areas of work are already underway in China to inform the WHO understanding of the zoonotic origin of this outbreak.
These include early investigations of cases with symptom onset in Wuhan throughout December 2019, environmental sampling from the Hunan Wholesale Seafood Market and other area markets, and the collection of detailed records on the source and type of wildlife species sold at the Hunan market and the destination of those animals after the market was closed.
Coronavirus is transmitted via droplets and fomites during close unprotected contact between an infector and infectee.
Airborne spread has not been reported for Coronavirus and it is not believed to be a major driver of transmission based on available evidence; however, it can be envisaged if certain aerosol-generating procedures are conducted in health care facilities.
Fecal shedding has been demonstrated by some patients, and the viable virus has been identified in a limited number of case reports. However, the fecal-oral route does not appear to be a driver of Coronavirus transmission; its role and significance for Coronavirus remain to be determined.
In China, human-to-human transmission of the Coronavirus is largely occurring in families.
After the SOS videos of stranded fishermen started to spread in social media on Sunday evening, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Thiruvananthapuram MP Dr Shashi Tharoor have sent written requests to Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr S Jaishankar to rescue the Indians in Iran.
Meanwhile, Union Minister for State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan tweeted: “Received reports on Indians including fishermen from Kerala stuck in Iran due to COVID19. Our Embassy in Tehran is making assessment of the situation and is in touch with local authorities.’’