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By Shobha John

In the wake of fears of the Coronavirus, Air India has been lauded for sending two jumbo 747s to Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic in China. The airline evacuated more than 650 Indians from there in an operation described by the Indian Ambassador to China Vikram Misri as a “logistical nightmare”.

In a surprising and heart-warming gesture, a hotel in Chandigarh seems to have made special jalebis as a tribute for Air India’s humanitarian gesture. A post put out by an Air India pilot says that this special jalebi was made by Hotel Holiday Inn in Chandigarh “to laud all Air Indians who went beyond the call of duty to evacuate our countrymen from the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic. To fly into Wuhan, a city everyone wants to fly out of, risk own life to save Indians stranded there, is sublime display of courage”. A small gesture but nonetheless, enough to warm the cockles of one’s heart.

The Air India crew, five cockpit and 15 assigned to the cabin, did go through considerable risk and trouble to do the government’s bidding to evacuate Indians who were not infected. Besides, firming themselves up with complete protective gear–medicines, masks and overcoats–the first team also had five doctors, a paramedical staff, a team of engineers and security personnel. There was no interaction between the crew and passengers and no service took place. All food packets were kept in the seat pockets. The serious nature of the flight could be gauged from what the crew saw as the flight flew over Wuhan – empty streets and a deserted airport. This is not the first time the airline has done evacuations. Earlier, it had done so in Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Kuwait and Nepal, saving many lives in some of these war-torn countries.

And even as Twitter blamed private airlines for not doing their two-penny bit for the national cause, Sanjiv Kapoor, former chief commercial officer of Vistara tweeted: “Good job done by Air India. National carriers typically do this as they are taxpayer funded – Biman and Sri Lankan did it too for their citizens. Governments do have the right to charter aircraft from private airlines. In this case AI had the largest aircraft for the mission.”

Incidentally, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh too evacuated their citizens through special flights, while there was news that Pakistan had declined to evacuate their citizens despite pleas. However, it was not long before many countries across the globe suspended flights to China in a bid to stem the infection spreading to their areas. These include Qantas Airways, Air Canada, Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Egypt Air, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, etc.

The jalebi by the Chandigarh hotel of course was a small yet sweet gesture in the time of the virus.

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