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EAM's replies in the Lok Sabha on Indians Stranded in Iran due to COVID-19 (March 12, 2020)

March 13, 2020

DR. SUBRAHMANYAM JAISHANKAR: Sir, let me briefly respond to the observations made by various hon. Members.

Let me start with Shri T.R. Baalu’s question about fishermen in Iran and the arrangements which are made for them. At this moment, I want to assure you, we have no coronavirus cases among any of the fishermen but they have difficulty in getting food and other things. Our Consulate is in touch with them and will continue to be in touch with them. We are monitoring the situation and we are setting up a nodal centre to check their welfare and the welfare of the other people.

Shri Antony raised the issue of no screening at Kochi. That is not my understanding. My understanding is that there was screening instituted at all international airports. We have tightened it since then and I can assure you on behalf of the Group of Ministers that this is something which is very much on our agenda. Shri Premachandran again raised the issue of tests. He also referred to people who are stranded at airports. I want to assure you that we are today helping the people who are stranded at airports. We are preventing a sense of panic. I also want to clarify that India has not imposed a ban. India has said that if people from certain countries who are coming here, they have to go through quarantine – in certain cases compulsory quarantine and in some cases discretionary quarantine – and Indian citizens who are coming back will obviously come back to quarantine conditions if that is required.

Prof. Saugata Ray raised the issue again saying we are not issuing new visas. What we have done is this. We have kept in abeyance certain categories of visas for certain countries where there is prevalence of coronavirus. Ours is not the only country that has done that. There are a lot of other countries that have also done that. We were among the earliest to do it. He asked what was happening in Korea, France, Spain and Germany. We have not seen the kind of crisis situation that we have seen in Wuhan or we are seeing in Iran or we are seeing in Italy. So, we have to prioritise. We have to see where the problem is more severe and what kind of people are affected. For example, pilgrims are affected because they live in conditions where the spread of disease is very possible; students are affected because the dormitories are closed. We have to see where we should give the attention and where the resources should be given. I think, they would understand it. I would urge all the hon. Members to understand it as well.

Shri Hasnain Masoodi raised an issue about our response time in Iran. I would like to share, through you, with the hon. Members that there has been a very difficult situation in Iran because their own system is under severe pressure, hospitals are under pressure, and testing facilities are not available. We first tried to get everybody help in Iran. When we realised that this was not happening, we were required to send our medical team. We had to actually establish a clinic at Qom. We had to shift even that to Tehran and ask the people to go from Qom to Tehran because that was the compulsion on us there. So, there has been no lack of sensitivity to the situation of people but please understand that it is a very difficult situation in Iran and we are working on it. Fifty-eight people have come back. I expect, maybe, another more than 200 would come back soon and the numbers will keep increasing.

Shri Thomas Chazhikadan again raised the issue of airports, to which I have replied.

Shri Asaduddin Owaisi raised the issue of people who are stuck at Mashal. At the moment, we have one medical team operating at Tehran.

We are asking people to come to Tehran for testing. If there is a problem, we will find a way of reaching people in Mashhad. We will not leave them out there. I can give you that assurance.

Shri Hibi Eden ji raised an issue of virology testing centres. Dr. Harsh Vardhan ji is here. In due course, he will reply to that. Let me finish my list. We are setting up more laboratories for testing. The number of such laboratories has increased, but I would like my colleague to answer that question.

Shri Mehtab ji also asked the same question about the testing centres. He will answer that question.

The issue regarding tracking those who are coming in, is a very valid issue. I would like to assure the Members that there is a very very detailed tracking procedure. In fact, the Group of Ministers has seen every patient who was tested positive and has tracked hundreds of people who have been in contact with that patient. It is not that we are only quarantining. There is a very very detailed tracking procedure in place and it is because of that we have been able to keep it to the limit that we have.

Vasanthakumar ji raised an issue of fishermen who are in the island. I would like to assure him that we will make sure that they are looked after. We are regularly in touch with them. Therefore, the provisions will be made.

Bhagwant Mann ji raised the issue of 30 students of Punjab who got stuck at the Italy airport. I know that the hon. Member is concerned about students from his region. I would like to tell him that there are not 30 students but there are many more students from different parts of the country. For me, I need to find a way of helping or bringing all of them back. We are at it. Please understand, we can only bring them back if they are tested. They have to be tested and to test them, we have started the sampling today. We cannot bring back untested people in very severe epidemic situation because I have the security of this country to worry about as well.

Kanomozhi ji asked about setting up a helpline and where will we quarantine. We will be setting up a helpline. We have identified a large number of possible quarantine centres. Till now, most of the quarantine is taking place in Manesar and close by, but if the quarantine numbers mount, we have already initiated an exercise in cooperation with different Ministries and State Governments. We have a much bigger contingency plan for quarantining. I think, Dr. Harsh Vardhan ji would be in a better position to reply to it.

Finally, with regard to Adhir Ranjan ji’s issue about Saudi Arabia, I would like to say that we are very very sensitive to what is happening, particularly with our people who are working in very difficult conditions in the Gulf. So far, in the Gulf the cases have been very limited but we are very much on the alert because we totally share Member’s concern that if the situation becomes worse there, they will have to be a priority area. So, it is very much on our radar. I would request my colleague to reply on other issues.

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