Beijing, Feb. 12 -- The evacuation of 647 Indians from Hubei, the Chinese province worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak, last week was a complex exercise, which included the listing of hundreds of unregistered Indians, reassuring panicky students about their safety and negotiating hard with Chinese authorities grappling with the most critical medical emergency in decades.

Diplomats in Beijing were discussing reports of new influenza infection in central China soon after the first death related to the outbreak was reported on January 10. By the second week of January, Indian embassy officials in Beijing were dusting off files of registered Indians in Hubei and Wuhan, the capital city.

Hundreds of Indian students, they found out, had by th...