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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (March 05, 2020)

March 06, 2020

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar : Namasker! Good Afternoon! And welcome to this weekly media briefing. I do not have any announcement; I open the floor to questions.

Question : (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation) Sir, Prime Minister was supposed to visit to the European Union for the India - EU summit and second to Bangladesh. Please confirm whether both the visits are taking place or cancelled due to Corona virus outbreak?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar : (Answered in Hindi, approximate translation) As far as the India-EU Summit is concerned, both the countries as well as their health authorities are of the view that there should not be any travel between each other’s countries and hence it was decided with the same opinion that this summit will be rescheduled to a mutually convenient date. This decision has been taken keeping in mind the close relationship between India and EU, which is our spirit of close cooperation and both the two countries which share concerns, commitments. We hope that the COVID- 19 outbreak is possible to overcome. As far as the Prime Minister's visit to Bangladesh is concerned, you know that when Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came here, she specifically requested the Prime Minister that the celebration of Bangladesh is a centenary celebration and Banga Bandhu is the father of nation for them and you should come and today I would like to tell that the Prime Minister has accepted that invitation and he will participate in this important celebration. There will also be a bilateral component to this visit, but we will put the remaining details of this in front of you later.

Question: Sir in English please?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: You know with regard to the proposed India-EU summit both sides have agreed that due to health authorities advising against travel between regions it would be wise to reschedule the Summit to a mutually convenient date. The decision has been taken in the spirit of close cooperation between India and the EU, who share the same concerns and commitment to global health and hope that the outbreak is contained soon. As far as Prime Minister's visit to Bangladesh is concerned you are aware that when Prime Minister met Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, she is specifically invited Prime Minister to attend the centenary celebrations of Bangabandhu who is also known as the father of the nation. Prime Minister has accepted the invitation and will visit Bangladesh to attend this important celebration. There will be a bilateral component to the visit as well and we will share more details on the visit in due course.

Question : In the aftermath to the Delhi violence, we have seen number of countries discussing it, we know that the Turkish President raised the matter calling it a massacre. And then of course it was discussed in the UK parliament as well, where the Junior Foreign Minister spoke. So any comments by the Foreign Ministry?

Question : Also the USCIRF was also hearing on the CAA plus the OHCHR is sought to be amicus query in CAA matter in the Supreme Court. Would you like to comment?

Question : Is India worried or feel pressurized because of these international reactions to what is happening in the .as the earlier questions also noted that the reactions are there from abroad about CAA?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar : You see, we have seen certain statements made on the recent incidents of violence in Delhi. At this stage, we would like to highlight that the situation is fast returning to normal. You are aware that the law enforcement agencies are taking steps on the ground to restore confidence and also ensure that law & order is maintained. Prime Minister has publicly appealed for peace and brotherhood. Senior officials have visited, are visiting the place. There are peace committees which have been set-up and several other steps have been taken in the affected region to restore normalcy. At this sensitive time, we would urge people not to make any irresponsible comments and also not to be influenced by selective and unsubstantiated narrative on this matter. As far as the comments by the Turkish President is concerned, you see, they are factually inaccurate. They are driven by their own political agenda and we don’t expect such statements to come out from a head of state. We made a strong demarche with the Turkish Ambassador here in Delhi on the 3rd of March on the statement.

Question: ………inaudible………..

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar : USCIRF it is already included. In fact I already made a statement at my last weekly briefing.

Question: ………inaudible………..

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
You see, it does not change the position on the ground. I think basically what we are trying to say that these are very sensitive times and at this point of time irresponsible comments coming from people you know and selective comments which are not based on facts. I think it will do more damage and we of course expect and urge such people not to make any remarks.

Question: …………inaudible………

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, look if you know the situation and what I partly answered now is that at this point of time, the focus is on restoring normalcy. What we are seeing now is that the situation is fast getting to normal. Please also keep in mind that the steps which are being taken, also keep in mind that at the highest level the Prime Minister himself has appealed for peace and brotherhood. So we are moving in the right direction.

The law enforcement agencies are doing their job and we do hope that the situation, the way it is progressing, we are fast returning in that direction.

Question: …………inaudible………

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: (Answered in Hindi, approximate translation) See, as we said, over the incidents of violence in Delhi, we have seen some, heard some, from other countries and from some individuals. At this moment we would like to tell you that the situation is returning to normalcy very fast. The law enforcement agencies are doing their job. They are working on the ground and they are focused to restore the confidence of the people as fast as possible. How to normalize the situation on the ground? As you know the Prime Minister has himself appealed to maintain peace and brotherhood. Many other things are happening. The senior officials, Police officials and other officials are visiting the site. Peace committees are formed and many other steps are being taken to normalize the situation in a fast manner. And we believe that people should restrain themselves from giving such comments in this sensitive situation. We would also like to say that their statement is based on a selective narrative and biased and the narrative itself is unsubstantiated and there are no facts. So keep this in mind and make assessment on this basis.

Question: Sir, there is a media report that around 495 tourists from Iran are untraceable, what is the real situation? Secondly, how many foreign tourists are there of such type who have come from COVID affected countries and are untraceable?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: (Answered in Hindi, approximate translation): See, I have seen this report and is obvious that if somebody is missing, then the Embassy is first to know and if the embassy is informed then they will tell us in turn. Till date we have not received any such information from Embassy of Iran that somebody is missing. Secondly, all other tourists which we are talking about arrived in India much before. Much before the outbreak in Iran and they are not able to go back because there are no flights between the two countries presently. As soon as the flights, commercial flights shall start operating, they will return back. I think we should not panic in this matter because they came here before the outbreak. They have not come here from Iran after the outbreak and as I said earlier, we have not received any information from the Embassy of Iran that anybody is missing. This would be my reply on this issue.

Question: (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation)We have a constraint policy which says that talk and terror can’t go together. But we saw that both talk and terror were together when deal was made with Taliban and we were sitting as silent spectators. So, whether our policy has changed? And in last few days we have seen that the deal is getting derailed. So what we have to say on this?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: (Answered in Hindi, approximate translation) We have issued a statement. Firstly, on the signing of the agreement between US and Taliban and secondly, the joint declaration. That was between US and the Afghan Government and we have made our stand very clear. And we have been talking about this that India will continue to extend all possible support to the Government and the people of Afghanistan in realizing their aspirations for a peaceful, democratic and prosperous future, where the interest of all sections of Afghan society are protected. As far as the deal is concerned, it has been just being signed and I think it is not right to speculate that in which direction it will move further. You must have also paid attention that in our statement the complete political spectrum of Afghanistan has welcomed the direction in which Afghanistan is moving. They had welcomed the opportunity for peace and stability and along with that I would like to tell you, which is in our statement also, that India has always supported the opportunities that can end violence and cut ice with international terrorism. We are all aware of what the agreements provide for. Let’s wait, we are closely watching the situation..

Question: Do you think India was not kept in the loop when the deal was signed with an important neighbour?

Question: Since the signing of the deal we have seen at least two statements from the Taliban, which talk about having bilateral relations and one talks about bilateral relations with regional countries. I mean at the time when the Taliban are not even the Government, mean that are they overstepping, what’s India speak on that?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, I think your question it has to be addressed to somebody who has made that statement. They are saying regional countries. They have to clarify who those regional countries are, coming to your question, I mean from the beginning we have taken this position and I think, you are all aware we had been very closely monitoring the situation. The people and the countries who are important stakeholders, we have always consulted them. You know we had been in touch with US, we have been in touch with Government of Afghanistan, with China, Russia. So we have coordinated position and our position is also very well known. You see, I think, from the beginning expressed a view that we do hope that in whatever form and direction it moves, our concerns will be accommodated. We have also made it very clear that the gains which Afghanistan has has managed to get in the last 18-20 years, they should be preserved. We have also said at the same time that there should be an end to international terrorism and there should be no safe sanctuaries in Afghanistan. So, at this point of time we are looking at a deal which has been signed and lets just watch and see where it goes.

Question: The Supreme Court could take up the issue that the UN Human rights commission is pushing, what could the ministry, your ministry, what kind of input you would have on this?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, I am very clear on this. This is a matter which only the honorable Court can answer. You are aware of our statement. The statement is very very clear and all such queries which you have on this matter, if you go through the statement, you will get the answer.

Question: (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation) There are some Indians stranded in Iran due to Corona. What the Indian Government is planning about it. Because the Health Minister told in his press conference that we will make a lab there, we will treat there and then we will bring back. So what is the plan? And how many people are there? In which other countries Indians are affected? Have you got any data?

Question: (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation) Shall we send our plane to rescue the Indians. Do you have any such plans?

Question: Sir, there are number of restrictions on seeking visa for India right now on few countries. I wanted to know what is the process of arriving at such decisions and is it the Health Ministry, that is the nodal agency for this and how we will be getting the inputs from our missions outside and will you be periodically reviewing it and how temporary are these restrictions?

Question: Sir, it was related to that. I was wondering if the Government is considering some more travel restrictions for Corona virus?

Question: Japanese government today showed the great concern about the visa suspension. You have any comment and also if it will continue 1 month, 2 months or more. It will have a great negative impact on their economy or business, India or Japanese. So do you have any idea how long will it continue?

Question: (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation) I would like to know that for how many countries India’s visa is canceled? Second question is that, what is the impact on the economy? And the third question is that are we in communication with WHO about visit of their team to India?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: OK! See, first of all, I think I will just give you a perspective as to how we are dealing with the situation. Prime Minister himself is personally taking lot of interest in the preparedness of India being ready to deal with the situation. There is a group of Ministers. Regular meetings are being held. Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Health, both the ministries are deeply involved, our embassies across the world are on 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 lot of attention to this matter. You must have also seen the suo moto statement made by the Health Minister in the parliament today and I think that answers many of the questions, which had been raised but specifically on Iran. You are aware and our mission is putting, regular updates out, that the mission is continues to be in touch with all the Indians in Iran, including pilgrims, fisherman and other Indian community. We have been advising them that you should follow the health protocol as advised by WHO and local authorities. As of now we do not have any case of any Indian infected with the virus in Iran. Our mission has opened a 24 x 7 helpline. Arrangements are being made to facilitate the return of stranded Indians from areas of concern through normal civil aviation channels.

We need good cooperation from Iranian authorities, so that an appropriate screening process can be set-up before the Indian nationals can be facilitated to take those flights back home. External Affairs Minister has already tweeted and I am sure you must have seen the tweet and that a medical team is about to arrive or may have arrived, as we have this press conference. And they are going to set-up a Lab to screen the Indian nationals before they can board the flight and they can be brought back to India.

The 2nd question was on the nodal ministry. You see, you must be following the regular updates, which are being put up by the Health Ministry. Since it is a health related matter, the advisories and updates are being put out by the Health Ministry, the statements etc. You know, and all the advisories related to visas, suspension of visas, where you should travel, where you should not travel. This is the mandate of the Ministry of Health. You know regarding COVID-19. Whether there will be any more restrictions, is very difficult to say. It is evolving situation and if you look at, how things have progressed in the last week or so. I think there has been an update almost every day. So depending on the situation, depending on how wide spread the disease is in India and across the world, steps will be taken.

The Japanese government visa. Look every country is taking steps to ensure that the disease COVID-19 does not spread within its own country. 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 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 a finger on exactly what the costs are.

On the WHO team, in the statement made by the Health Minister, he did mention that very close coordination is happening with WHO and in fact all the necessary guidelines which we are putting out as an advisory in terms of how to protect yourself from the virus, that we are taking from WHO, so there is a lot of exchange which is taking place between the Ministry of Health and WHO on this matter. I hope I have answered all the questions.

Question: (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation) What is the difference between the ground situation of Iran and Wuhan that Indians were brought back by special flight but not from iran?

Question: You said that you need the cooperation of the Iran Government for screening these passengers before they come. Are you indicating that the cooperation hasn’t come, could you just specify that?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, what I meant was that for the screening purposes itself, You know, if you have been following the trail of bringing people back, Indians back in to India from different countries, there are certain health protocols which have been prescribed and you have to follow those health protocols and as per the health protocol, you know before you embark, before you take the flight, you have to be checked and only people who clear the screening board the flight.

So the fact that we are sending a team to go there, put up the systems in place, so that the Indian nationals who are stranded and who are in those certain vulnerable regions. They can be tested and those who clear the test can be brought back. But, yes I think at this point of time the fact that they are about to reach the place and the testing may start sometime immediately after their arrival in Iran. I think we are now getting cooperation from Iran and we look forward to facilitating the return of Indians to India.

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.

Question: There is a report that to prevent Corona virus spray was done on 16 thousand, 76 crew, passengers aboard, 452 ships from China not allowed to disembark on Indian port. Are you aware of any such information?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: What is the source of your report?

Question: Some official sources.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Can you please elaborate.

Question: I can’t elaborate.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Look, I am not aware. Look the authoritative statement on COVID-19 and our preparedness has been made by the Health Ministry in the parliament. If it is not there then you will have to give me more details, so that I can check and get back to you.

Question: (Questioned in Hindi, approximate translation) You have given information regarding the two visits of the Prime Minister, Brussels and Bangladesh. But there are reports in the newspaper about the scheduled visit to Egypt. What will happen to that visit?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: (Answered in Hindi, approximate translation) We never announced about Egypt. This we will agree that we have close relations with Egypt and the last PM level visit that took place was quite long ago. It was also not bilateral, it was multilateral summit. We were in talk and are in talk with each other. Whenever the dates are finalized, we shall keep you informed.

Question: I was wondering if we could get an update on the case of Chinese ship, which has been stopped at Kandla port on suspicion of carrying missile technology to Pakistan?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Our authorities had detained a Chinese vessel, Da Shi Yan, when birthed in Kandla port in early February as it had misdeclared the item that it was carrying. Our examination has revealed that the item is an autoclave that is controlled under dual use export controls list, therefore the item has been seized by our authorities as per our legal procedure. It has also been ascertained by our examination that this item has military application.

We have conveyed our concerns on this issue to the Chinese side and have highlighted that as a friendly country the Chinese Government will take appropriate measures to ensure that the Chinese entities do not engage in activities that can contribute to proliferation.

Question: Regarding the statement made by the Iranian Minister about Delhi violence, so do you think, it was an isolated incidence or its part of change of their policy towards India?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, I think, we have made a statement, you know, on Mr. Zarif’s reaction. There is nothing further, which I have to add at this stage.

Question: (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation) The regular visa or e-visa issued to the citizens of which countries including China and South Korea have been cancelled, and through what processes the Indians returning from those countries will have to go through? Please compile both questions and reply.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: (Answered in Hindi, approximate translation) But as I told you that regular updates are being issued from the Ministry of Health and today our Health Minister has given a statement, which was Suo Moto statement, in the Parliament. In that, he has discussed but I want to tell you that first of all, all regular, which means sticker, the sticker which is pasted, visas, e-visas including visa on arrival which is applicable to nationals of Japan and South Korea and granted to nationals to Italy, Iran, South Korea, Japan and issued on or before 3rd March and who have not yet entered India, they are no longer valid. They stand suspended with immediate effect. This was we had this came out on the 3rd March itself. Now, 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. The earlier visa issued to them is no longer valid. Numbers two, regular visa /e-visa granted to nationals of Peoples Republic of China issued on or before 5th February 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 1st February 2020 and who have not yet entered India stands suspended with immediate effect. Those requiring to travel to India under compelling circumstances may apply for fresh visas to nearest Indian embassy and the Consulate. Number four, Diplomats, officials of UN and the other International bodies, OCI card holders and air crew from above countries are exempted from such restrictions on entry. However, their medical screening is compulsory. Number five, all passengers, both foreign and Indian they 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. And we have also advised Indian nationals to avoid non essentials travel to other countries which are affected by COVID-19.

Is there anything I didn’t answer. But, I think I have answered all your queries.

Question: After the Health Ministers statement in the Lok Sabha today, some members demanded that the screening of the passengers, this facility should be setup at the other ports also because International passengers are directly going to some other states. So, are their no facilities for those passengers?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, I am afraid, you know, it is not for me to answer. There is a clear cut division in terms of, what I am authorized to say. We are looking at the external ramification of COVID-19 and that I have touched. Health Minister and Health Ministry officials, they are actually putting up regular updates. I am sure, some of the questions which have come up in the public domain, they will be addressed by the Ministry of Health.

Question: I understand there is an acute shortage of masks in the Indian market.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, again you have to understand, this is not something to be addressed to.

Question: No, I just want to understand, if any missions in New Delhi have drawn your attention.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: No, I mean, we are not aware of any such reference being made to us by foreign missions in Delhi.

Question: The Indian missions have been asked to procure the essentials items, there is a list by the Commerce Ministry and it has been forwarded to the Ministry of External Affairs for the procurement sources, sourcing of the procurement of essential items. So has Indian Missions been involved in the process?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: You mean to say, that the procurement will be done through Indian mission.

Question: Yeah, the Indian missions have been asked to look for the alternative source of procurement, if the supplies get disrupted from the countries, which are affected by

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I am not aware of this. I will have to check and get back.

Question: (Asked in Hindi, approximate translation) India wanted to setup laboratory etc. in Iran, has the process started? Please tell in brief.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: (Answered in Hindi, approximate translation) As I told you what, our Foreign Minister that this medical team will reach today, may be it might have reached. And immediately upon reaching they will setup the lab and as soon as the lab is setup the testing of the Indian nationals who are there will start. And this is a pre embarkation protocol. It is a health protocol which has been prescribed and which is applicable throughout the world, that, before you board a flight you have to clear from any infection. So, if you are infected then you can’t board the flight.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Look, I think we have to go by the test result, if the test result which is done is negative and that is what we did in all the cases and that is the internationally accepted norm, that was done in the case of Diamond Princess and that was done in other cases as well.

Yes, I think look, that protocol again, as I mentioned that there is one pre-embarkation protocol, there is a protocol which kicks in place the moment you land and that protocol has been prescribed by the Ministry of Health.

Question: ……………….inaudible……………

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: It is understood that if it is positive then they will be quarantined there itself. All countries have these facilities. I am not sure if it has been set-up now, as Minister tweeted that they are flying today. They may be about to reach and once they reach the place. I am sure, they will be consulting with the Iranian authorities, perhaps the embassy as well. You know keeping in mind and location which is easy for everybody to access. So, I think, that perhaps will be the determining factor in deciding the location.

Thank you very much!
This concludes my weekly briefing.
Thank you all for joining!


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