Home and quarantined: Chinese back from Iran

By Hu Yuwei, Bai Yunyi and Ni Hao Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/6 20:43:41

A chartered plane arranged by Chinese authorities landed in Lanzhou on Thursday from Tehran Photo: Courtesy of Zhang Ming

Chinese returning from Iran on chartered flights have gone through rigorous health screening and preventative measures amid China's efforts to control the novel coronavirus surge from infected arrivals.

Eleven people among the 311 passengers on chartered flights arranged by Chinese authorities from Iran to Lanzhou, in Northwest China's Gansu Province, were confirmed as COVID-19 cases on Thursday night.

They are receiving treatment at designated hospitals in Gansu and are in stable condition, while the rest of the passengers are undergoing a 14-day observation period in isolation, the Gansu provincial health commission confirmed to the Global Times on Friday.

"Before boarding the planes, medical professionals put masks on everyone and asked passengers not to touch them with their hands," Wang Qian (pseudonym), a Chinese returnee on the second chartered flight to Gansu on Thursday, told the Global Times on Friday.

"Each passenger was asked to line up one-and-a-half meters apart. We were allowed to get on board in batches after the temperature checks and disinfection," she said. 

Seats on planes were required to be spaced apart, and only those with the Chinese flags were allowed for passengers to sit.

Flight attendants remind passengers not to eat during the flight, not to take off their masks, and not to go to the bathroom except for special occasions, as these are dangerous behaviors that can lead to infection, said Wang.

"That made me feel safe and assured when I saw the Chinese flags," she said. "The medics with protective clothing on board looked very careful and professional in dealing with us."

"The moment I boarded the plane, I felt like a wandering child running into my mother's arms," Zhang Ming (pseudonym), another Chinese passenger, told the Global Times on Friday. 

When the plane landed in Gansu, medical staffs boarded the plane to take the temperature of every passenger and take those with abnormal body temperatures off the plane.

Others were allowed to enter through customs with a health information sheet, and were then sent to the quarantine area by a designated bus attended by medical staffs. 

Two chartered flights arranged by Chinese authorities landed in Lanzhou separately on Wednesday and Thursday from Tehran, evacuating Chinese nationals trapped there as Iran is facing a worsening COVID-19 epidemic. 

This arrangement is mainly because the direct flight between China and Iran has been stopped, and many other transfer routes are no longer available. More transits can increase the risk of infection, and may bring more difficulty in prevention and control after entering the border.

Chinese living in Iran told the Global Times that more than 1,000 people have signed up to fly back to China on chartered flights, mainly students and employees of Chinese companies, while 540 wait for future chartered flights to other Chinese cities.

The Chinese embassy in Iran keeps updated information and responds to inquiries of Chinese for chartered flights on two WeChat groups. Signing up for slots on the chartered flights can be made online and passengers have to pay normal round-trip airfare of around 3,000 yuan ($433), a Chinese in Tehran told the Global Times.

Further arrangements will be made for those isolated based on their medical conditions when the quarantine period ends. There will be no further flights from Iran to Gansu, the official of the Gansu provincial health commission told the Global Times.

The apartment-style quarantine rooms are in good condition with separate bathrooms and toilets, and services show great sanitation and catering, Zhang said.

Meals are delivered to the front door of each room, and isolators open the door to pick up meals themselves to reduce human contact.

The Gansu government also plans to provide counseling to people in quarantine, local media reported.

The current isolation zone in Lanzhou is mainly provided for overseas returnees, said the official. At present, only two patients in Gansu are being isolated in designated hospitals, and there were no newly reported suspected cases in Gansu. 

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