Urging Indians and residents who are stranded in different cities abroad to find alternative accommodation locally at least until the end of the month, the Ministry of External Affairs said Indian missions are helping them make arrangements and they must “stay put where they are”.

“It is not advisable for people to move from one region to another region. This must be understood in the context of the gravity of the crisis. These restrictions are temporary, so one should not panic. If Indians are held up in some places, our advice would be to stay put,” said Dammu Ravi, additional secretary in charge of coordinating the efforts to counter COVID-19.

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar added that the government was requesting other countries to extend the visas for Indians who have to stay on, in the same manner that India has facilitated visa-extensions for foreign nationals in India.

Their remarks came just moments before the government announced it would suspend all incoming commercial flights to India from March 22, for a week until March 29, indicating that the government expects Indians abroad to stay there until March 30 at the very least.

The MEA said Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) who are based in India but were abroad at the time the government revoked their visa facility, would not be allowed back at this stage. Sources said the government’s aim was to “minimise the impact of what might happen until we know the full extent of the [virus’s spread].”

When asked how Indians and resident OCIs in these locations, including many students on a tight budget, were expected to manage, MEA officials said, “Ideally they must take care of themselves locally with whatever resources they have, and our missions are in the forefront to support these stranded Indian and helping them to the best of our abilities.”

In addition the MEA said it was attempting arrange enough flights for “Coronavirus-negative” Indians who are stuck at airports including London, Schiphol, Rome, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and other cities, as soon as possible, but may not be able to facilitate their return before the Sunday deadline.

According to Mr. Ravi, the government has managed to bring back all those who needed to be brought back from Singapore, and local missions would help passengers in other locations. The MEA conceded that many passengers had been offloaded from flights to India because some airlines had “wrongly interpreted” the embargo times, and they would study such cases separately.

In particular, the MEA expects to run a number of flights to Italy over the weekend from Rome and Milan. “We have received the test results of those stuck in Italy, and fortunately a large number have been found to be negative, and we will be working out the logistics for their return,” officials said.

Meanwhile the government said it is working on commitments made to neighbouring SAARC nations during the video-conference initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday. “The [$10 million] emergency fund is already up and running,” said Mr. Kumar, adding that requests totalling about $1 million for masks, gloves and disinfectants have already been received, of which supplies have been dispatched to Bhutan and the Maldives.


News Source:The Hindu


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