A diplomatic spat broke out between New Delhi and Beijing with the Chinese government delaying permission for India to send a military aircraft to bring back its remaining citizens from the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak.

New Delhi accused Beijing of “deliberately delaying” granting permission to send the aircraft, although the request for clearance was submitted as early as February 13 and a flight plan was submitted on February 15. India was keen to send a C-17 military aircraft to Wuhan in Hubei province of China on February 20. The aircraft was to carry a consignment of gloves, surgical masks, feeding and infusion pumps and defibrillators, which India wanted to provide China as a token of support to the neighbouring country’s fight to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The aircraft was to bring back nearly 100 Indian citizens, who could not be evacuated earlier.

China, however, dismissed the allegation that it was deliberately delaying the clearance sought by government of India to send the aircraft for evacuation.

“There is no such thing as China deliberately delaying granting (India) flight permission,” Ji Rong, spokesperson of the Embassy of China in New Delhi, said on Saturday.

“The current epidemic situation in Hubei province (of China) is complicated, and the prevention and control of Covid-19 have entered into a critical stage,” she said, adding: “We are carefully assessing the ground situation, as prevention work requires. Competent departments of the two countries are keeping communication and coordination in this regard.”

New Delhi, countered the clarification of the Chinese Embassy. Sources pointed out that China allowed Japan, Ukraine and France to send aircraft on February 16, 19 and 20. “If the work (prevention and control of the outbreak as cited by Chinese Embassy in New Delhi) was not critical enough to stop or delay the flights by aircraft sent by other countries, how did it suddenly become critical only to delay permission for the aircraft to be sent by India?”, wondered a source in New Delhi.

“Indian nationals are waiting to be brought back from Wuhan. The uncertainty is causing anxiety and mental stress. China should grant clearance to the relief flight which can bring the Indian nationals back,” said the source.