By Aarti Tikoo Singh
New Delhi, March 12 (IANS) Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar on Thursday defended the government’s decision to suspend all visas, except those of officials and diplomats, arguing that “exceptional situations require exceptional response”.
In a statement in the Lok Sabha, the Minister though cautioned that it was important to resolve the problem and not spread panic.
The global spread of coronavirus, he said, is now real and serious after the WHO declared it a pandemic. “At this time, travel in itself is not recommended as it only heightens risks,” he said.
The stringent measures against international travel, he said, were taken for obvious reasons. “All the cases so far have come directly from those who have a travel history. In doing so, we are clear that we will do whatever must be done to ensure that the spread of coronavirus is restricted and the health security of India ensured,” he said.
In many respects, the minister said, India has been ahead of the curve in taking precautionary measures.
The government has suspended all the existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/International Organizations, employment, project visas, till 15th April 2020. This also includes suspension of visa free travel facility granted to Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card holders.
International traffic through land borders has been restricted to designated check posts with robust screening facilities. The government has also made 14-day quarantine mandatory for all incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15 February 2020.
All the measures will come into effect from 1200 GMT on March 13, 2020 at the port of departure.
While assuring the Parliament that the government was making every effort to contain the pandemic, Jaishankar said, it is absolutely essential that “we react responsibly and soberly. An excessive sense of alarm, he said, would only be to the detriment of those who are really in need.
The Minister informed the house that the government was working with the Iranian authorities to operate some limited commercial flights for facilitating early return of the remaining Indian nationals after due testing. “Our Embassy, with the cooperation of the Iranian authorities is making arrangements for medical care and monitoring of those who have tested positive,” he said.
Jaishankar revealed that a medical team is being sent to the coronavirus-hit Italy, from India. The government, he said, had decided to make provision for testing primarily for students in Italy and collect samples for testing. Those tested negative will be allowed to travel and will be quarantined on arrival in India for 14 days.
The government has appointed in the external affairs ministry, a senior official to coordinate India’s Coronavirus response internationally. A nodal office is also being established to speedily process requests for assistance.