During the recent COVID-19 crisis, Indian diplomacy has shown much proactive stance and plunged into actions helping stranded Indians from Wuhan and also Tehran and other places
"I propose we create a COVID-19 Emergency Fund. This could be based on voluntary contributions from all of us. India can start with an initial offer of 10 million US dollars for this fund. Any of us can use the fund to meet the cost of immediate actions. Our Foreign Secretaries, through our embassies, can coordinate quickly to finalize the concept of this fund and its operations.” This is the assertion of a new generation Indian Prime Minister.
Truly, Indian diplomacy has come a long way in recent years and more so in recent times under Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Indian diplomacy has shown much proactive stance as it plunged into action to help out stranded Indians from Wuhan, Tehran and other places. There was quick reflex in action and meticulous planning.
That is why External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar visited Srinagar and met some of the parents of students who were in coronavirus affected Iran. A suave and a career diplomat who has the full confidence of the Prime Minister, Dr Jaishankar aptly summed up the situation, calling it “an exceptional situation that requires an exceptional response”.
It goes without saying that at times, beyond the call of duty and thus specific interventions were required as in the case of the Diamond Princess crew in Japan or the rescue of pilgrims in Iran. Thus, on March 15, 2020, Dr Jaishankar could announce that 234 Indians stranded in Iran arrived in India. The batch comprised 131 students and 103 pilgrims. Earlier another batch of 44 Indian pilgrims also arrived in India from Iran.
The Government of India had a detailed and systematic methodology and road map placed while dealing with the coronavirus crisis, especially in terms of handling issues when it came to foreign countries.
It was clearly stated that Prime Minister Modi himself had been personally taking a lot of interest in the preparedness of India being ready to deal with the situation. A group of Ministers has been assigned with the task of holding regular meetings in this regard.
Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Health, both the ministries got deeply involved, and as stated by MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar, Indian embassies across the world got into the job. “They have, and wherever you have a certain number of cases, they have opened 24 x 7 telephone networks for people to connect to them. External Affairs Minister himself is personally paying a lot of attention to this matter,” he said.
“We have been advising Indians abroad and others that you should follow the health protocol as advised by WHO and local authorities,” he added.
In this context, MEA spokesman Kumar said: “Japan has taken steps, India has taken steps and based on the assessment on the ground, steps are being taken by different countries across the world. The main objective of course is to ensure that in a country like India with a population of 1.3 billion, you have to put some mechanism in place, so that the infection does not spread to a large majority of our population. Economic impact, it is very difficult to access at this stage. You know, if you go by news reports, there is a disruption in flight, there are disruptions in the trade as well, the economic cost will come out perhaps at a later stage, but I think it is too soon to kind of put the finger on exactly what the costs are.”
Moreover, on the WHO role, Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said in his suo moto statement in both the Houses of Parliament that very close coordination is happening with WHO.
In terms of crisis management and helping Indians in different countries vis-a-vis Iran or Italy, MEA spokesman said: “Difference between Iran and Wuhan is very clear. You see, Wuhan was a confined territory where there were no flights operating. I mean the city was basically locked down. In this present situation, you know, we have Indians all over the world, you have Indians in Italy, in US and in each country you have a sick situation and you have a case of COVID-19, now where you have commercial flights which are already operating. So there is a difference, you know, between the two situations.”
The government has also ordered the cancellation of some e-visas including visa on arrival which is applicable to nationals of Japan and South Korea and granted to nationals to Italy, Iran and South Korea issued on or before March 3, 2020, and who have not yet entered India, they are no longer valid.
However, at the same time, it was explained that those who need to travel to India from these five countries, they should contact our embassy and they have to apply for a regular visa.
Regular visa/e-visa granted to nationals of the People’s Republic of China issued on or before February 5 were suspended earlier. It shall remain in force. Regular visas, e-visas granted to all foreign nationals who have travelled to the People’s Republic of China, Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan on or after February 1, 2020, and who have not yet entered India also stood suspended with immediate effect.
Those requiring to travel to India under compelling circumstances may apply for fresh visas at the nearest Indian embassy or the Indian Consulate. Diplomats, officials of the UN and the other international bodies, OCI cardholders and aircrew from above countries are exempted from such restrictions on entry. However, their medical screening is compulsory.
As a further precaution, it has been announced that all passengers, both foreign and Indian, must undergo medical screening at the port of entry, if they are taking an international flight. They are also required to furnish a self-declaration form and travel history to health officials and immigration officers at all ports.
“We have also issued an advisory regarding travel, and we are advising Indian nationals to refrain from travel to China, Iran, Republic of Korea, Italy and Japan,” MEA spokesman said, adding “we have also advised Indian nationals to avoid non-essential travel to other countries which are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
(The writer is a freelancer)