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New Delhi: An Air-India flight on Friday will depart for China’s Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, to start evacuating Indian nationals.

“The national carrier once again comes to the rescue – this time to evacuate Indians from Wuhan, the site of the outbreak of the coronavirus," said Ashani Lohani, chairman and managing director of state-run Air India. "This mission begins today with a Jumbo 747 operating between Delhi and Wuhan."

An Air India spokesperson said the flight is scheduled to depart at 12.30pm Friday and will return by 1am-2 am on Saturday. The aircraft would be able to evacuate around 400 people from the Chinese city, and will have on board a crew of 30, including doctors and other medical staff, said the spokesperson. The flight would carry masks and jackets for everyone on board.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday declared the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, as it spreads beyond China. The declaration serves notice to all United Nations member states that the world’s top health advisory body thinks the situation is “serious".

“There are now 82 cases in 18 countries. Of these, only 7 had no history of travel in China. There has been human-to-human transmission in 3 countries outside China. One of these cases is severe and there have been no deaths," the WHO said.

According to WHO, there are now 7,711 confirmed and 12,167 suspected cases in China. Death toll has hit 213.

India on Thursday reported its first case of novel coronavirus. An Indian student of Wuhan University in China tested positive in Kerala, the union health ministry said.

India has requested China for permission to operate two flights to bring back its nationals from worst-affected central Hubei province.

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