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Friday, 13 March, 2020, 12 : 00 PM [IST]

MEA appoints official to coordinate response amid coronavirus

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has appointed a senior official to coordinate India’s coronavirus response internationally, a day after the government suspended most visas starting Friday until the middle of April. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar called for calm and said India has been “ahead of the curve” in responding to the pandemic, reports Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury in the Economic Times.

Prime Minister himself has reviewed the situation from time to time,” he said. “We have been regularly issuing travel advisories and visa guidelines that reflect the situation in countries of concern. In many respects, India has been ahead of the curve in taking precautionary measures.”

He said “the challenge is growing by the day in Europe” and added that the government will send a medical team to Italy, which is in lockdown because of the Covid-19 outbreak, to test Indians who are stuck there.

“The situation in Italy is now emerging as a cause of great concern,” the Minister told Parliament on Thursday. “I would like to share with the Hon’ble members that steps in this regard have already been initiated. It has been decided to make provision for testing primarily for students/compassionate cases in Italy and collect samples for testing.”

Those who test negative will be allowed to travel back. They will be confined to quarantine on arrival in India for 14 days, the Minister said. He also referred to steps being taken to evacuate Indians from Iran, where there are more than 6,000 citizens. The Minister appreciated Iran’s support in evacuating Indians.

A nodal office is being established to speedily process requests for assistance that are expected to increase from different parts of the world, Jaishankar said.

The government has urged Indians to remain where they are.

“We advise Indians, wherever they are, it is better to stay put,” said Dammu Ravi, the Additional Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry tasked with liaising on Covid-19. “They should travel only if they have compelling reasons.”

The MEA official said that many of the Indian students in Italy who have completed their courses want to come back. “But if they can, we would advise them to stay put,” said Ravi.

There has been a 40% reduction in the number of Indians returning to India in the past few days.

Jaishankar’s official overseas trips will be rescheduled after it was decided that central ministers will refrain from travelling abroad. He was scheduled to travel to Sochi for the Russia-India-China foreign ministers’ meet on March 22-23.

““It is absolutely essential that we react responsibly and soberly. What we say and do should address problems, not spread panic. It is natural that there would be situations of different degrees of gravity in different parts of the world. As a government, we will assess these in terms of their urgency and seriousness and respond accordingly,” the Minister said. 

 “As the house would have noted, where specific interventions are required – as in the case of Wuhan in China, the Diamond Princess crew in Japan or pilgrims in Iran – we will take necessary action,” Jaishankar said. “These are exceptional situations that require exceptional response. But at this time, travel in itself is not recommended as it only heightens risks.”

The pandemic is being monitored by a group of secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary and a Group of Ministers led by the Health Minister, the Minister said.

“My Ministerial colleague has already appraised the house of measures being taken to control and contain the spread of virus in the country,” he said. (Source: Economic Times)

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