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MEA set to brief foreign envoys on coronavirus, will allay concerns over travel advisory

Pakistan, Italy & Ireland have cancelled national day celebrations and embassy events, some diplomats plan to leave India ‘for the time being’.

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New Delhi: The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has invited all heads of missions (HOMs) for a briefing Friday on the steps taken by the government to combat the spread of coronavirus in the country, at a time when the diplomatic community has expressed concerns about a blanket ban on all international travellers entering India, ThePrint has learnt.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in India touched 73 Thursday, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

In a note to all diplomatic and consular missions, UN specialised agencies and other inter-governmental organisations Thursday, the MEA has said it will give them a presentation on “India’s preparedness and response to COVID-19 pandemic” Friday, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.

Dammu Ravi, additional secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, who has been entrusted with coordinating the steps taken by India to combat the challenge globally, will hold the meeting along with senior officials from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Also read: Coronavirus pandemic and India’s quarantine spreads panic across front pages

Unease among diplomats

The government issued a stringent travel advisory late Thursday evening, according to which India has quarantined itself, fearing the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called a “pandemic”.

The advisory states that all existing visas — except for diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment, project visas — stand suspended until 15 April. This advisory will come into effect from 13 March at the port of departure.

The advisory has caused significant “concern and unease” within the diplomatic community, which is now planning to also quarantine all embassy premises. Some diplomats are also planning to leave India “for the time being”, sources said.

Also read: Thank God coronavirus didn’t start in India, it lacks China’s grit: Ex-Goldman Sachs chief

National day events, embassy receptions called off

Owing to the rapid spread of the coronavirus in India, the Pakistan High Commission has called off its national day celebration slated for 23 March.

The gala national day reception of Italy, which was scheduled to take place on 17 March, also stands cancelled.

The Embassy of Ireland has also cancelled all celebrations around St Patrick’s Day, also on 17 March.

“In light of the global outbreak of novel coronavirus COVID-19, we have postponed all events organised by the Embassy of Ireland in New Delhi due to take place in March 2020, including our St Patrick’s Day events,” said an official from the Irish embassy.

Also read: NBA’s Rudy Gobert down with coronavirus, days after he mockingly touched reporters’ mics

‘Need to respond responsibly’

Meanwhile, speaking in the Lok Sabha Thursday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said: “An excessive sense of alarm will only be to the detriment to those who are in need… Outbreak of coronavirus is a matter of concern. We need to respond responsibly.”

On the issue of evacuating Indians from Iran, which is in the grip of the disease, Jaishankar said: “There are operational constraints in evacuating Indians as the Iranian system is strict.”

The minister added that the government has sent a medical team to Italy to test Indians residing there, and only those who test negative for COVID-19 will be allowed to travel.

Also read: Tom Hanks and wife Rita test positive for coronavirus in Australia


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