Forty-four evacuees airlifted from Iran were on Sunday repatriated to Kashmir from the Indian Navy Quarantine Facility at Material Organisation in Ghatkopar after they spent a month in Mumbai and tested negative for COVID-19 on March 28.
In a statement issued on Monday, the Navy said it had “silently and successfully” completed the task of quarantining the 44 individuals, including 24 women. While the youngest member of the group of 44 was aged 19, the group also included septuagenarians.
The 44 were among the over 200 pilgrims stuck in Iran, a country severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pilgrims, who had tested negative for the virus, had flown into Mumbai on an Iran Air flight on March 13. Since they had come from a high-risk zone, they were kept at the naval quarantine facility in suburban Ghatkopar, a Navy spokesperson said. While their quarantine period was up on March 28, their stay was extended on account of the nationwide lockdown.
“The evacuees’ stay was extended, as they had no means of travelling to their homes in Srinagar and Ladakh. Consequently, arrangements were made to airlift them using IAF aircraft and on 12 April 2020, a C-130 aircraft has flown these individuals back to Srinagar,” the Navy said in its statement.
It added that a dedicated team of medical staff from the Navy monitored the health of the evacuees. They were supported by a team of conservancy personnel and other staff to maintain the cleanliness of the facility and provide food to the evacuees. “The evacuees were made comfortable in the facility with provision of a library, a TV room indoor games, a small gymnasium and even limited cricket gear,” the Navy’s statement read.
Mohammed Ibrahim Sofi, who led the group of 44 that traveled from Srinagar to Tehran via Delhi on February 3, said he was happy to be back home in Srinagar. “We were supposed to return on March 3. But at that time, when COVID-19 hit, we were in Tehran. The Indian Embassy in Tehran was very cooperative and under their guidance we stayed in Tehran. On March 9, we were tested and those of us who tested negative, were evacuated and brought to Mumbai on March 13,” he added.
“We are extremely grateful to the Navy officers in Mumbai who looked after us so well. They made us feel completely at home. We were touched by their concern and dedication towards us. Kashmir would have been different if we had seen such officers here. These officers have changed our view of the armed forces,” said Sofi, who had traveled to Iran with four other family members.
The 44 evacuees were given packed food and masks hand-stitched by Navy Wives Welfare Association (NWWA),Western Region for the return journey. The NWWA has also stitched around 1,500 face masks and distributed them to naval personnel and families in residential areas in Colaba, to sailors at INS Angre and to police personnel.
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