‘Initial focus to bring back Indian pilgrims stranded in Iran’
New Delhi, Mar 12 : Coronavirus outbreak is a matter of “great concern” and the government’s initial focus is to bring back Indian pilgrims stranded in Iran, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday.
Speaking on the situation arising out of the spread of the coronavirus, he said there are over 6000 Indian nationals in various provinces of Iran.
These include about 1100 pilgrims mainly from the union territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, and Maharashtra.
Besides there are nearly 300 students, primarily from Jammu and Kashmir; about 1000 fishermen, including from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat; and others who are on longer term stay in Iran for pursuing their livelihood and religious studies.
Over the last few days, the government has been making focused efforts for the safe return of the stranded Indians, he said.
Jaishankar said during his recent visit to Srinagar, he met parents of some of the students who are in Iran.
“Their anxiety at this time is completely understandable.
I shared with them in detail the ground situation and sought their understanding. I assured them that the government would facilitate the earliest possible return of their children.
Sampling of these students has begun today,” he said.
Given the scale of COVID-19 infection and its pressure on Iran’s own resources, a team of six Indian health officials has been deputed to Iran to set up testing and sampling facilities there.
The first batch of 108 samples were received in India on March 7. These were tested and 58 Indian pilgrims (25 men, 31 women and 2 children), who tested negative, were brought back by a IAF flight on 10 March.
“We have also received samples of 529 more Indians on this flight which are being tested in the National Institute of Virology, Pune.
“So far, 299 of them have tested negative. Some more results are awaited. We continue to collect more samples in Tehran and our endeavour is to ensure the earliest possible return of our nationals after appropriate testing and screening,” he said.
New Delhi is working with Iranian authorities to operate some limited commercial flights for facilitating early return of remaining Indians after testing them, he told the House.
The “initial focus is on bringing back pilgrims, mostly stranded in Qom”, he said, adding 58 citizens from Iran has been brought back and the government was working with Iranian authorities to operate some limited commercial flights for facilitating early return of the remaining Indians after testing them.
The minister also informed that there are 1,000 Indian fishermen who are stranded in Iran, but they are in the region which is not affected by the virus.
He said a team of health professionals has been sent to Iran to set up testing facilities there for Indians.
Talking about Italy, Jaishankar said the situation in the European country is a matter of great concern. Those tested negative will be allowed to return.
The minister said about 90 countries have reported coronavirus cases and the government has to focus and to prioritise.
At the moment after China and Diamond Princess (cruise ship) issue, Iran and Italy are an extreme situation.
Detailing steps being taken by the government to bring back Indians from COVID-19 affected nations, he also apprised the House that both countries have stretched their resources in dealing with the situation post spread of the coronavirus.
“The House will surely appreciate that few other nations have done what we have with respect to the COVID-19,” he said.
“The global coronavirus situation is being monitored on a continuous basis by a Group of Secretaries headed by Cabinet Secretary and a Group of Ministers, chaired by Minister of Health and Family Welfare,” Jaishankar said.
Besides taking steps to check the spread of the virus in the country, the government has ensured that e-visas and visa on arrival are temporarily suspended in certain cases.
Precautionary measures are also being taken on all land borders as well as air and sea entry points.
“As a country whose citizens are spread across the world.
This is matter of great concern for us. But we have to act responsibly and soberly to address the situation and not create panic,” he said.