Moving these people will heighten the risk of spreading Covid-19 in the country where they are as well as in India, a senior official in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, adding that these “are difficult times”.
Thousands of Indians, including students, are believed to be stranded across different countries, especially the US, the UK, Europe and the Gulf, amid travel restrictions imposed to check the coronavirus pandemic. Many have even taken to social media to seek help.
This is my request to the government of India to repatriate it's citizens from UAE at the earliest.Every single day is hard to live as we have nothin left to pay the room rent & to even have one meal a day.Please help us & my fellow countrymen who are left stranded here @MOS_MEA
— Samarth (@Samarthpv) April 12, 2020
Dear PM Modi Sir, with all due respect to your decision of lockdown in India please save us we are stuck in Oman with a travel ban. Please allow the International travels at least for the Indians who want to come back home. We have lost or jobs with no money to servive
— Amirrazvi (@Amirrazvi10) April 9, 2020
The matter of their repatriation was taken to court but, hearing the case earlier this week, the Supreme Court agreed that such an initiative was not feasible as of now.
The government had argued in its affidavit to the court that it had evacuated citizens earlier when the Covid-19 situation in India wasn’t as grim.
The senior MEA official said the stranded citizens should contact the Indian missions in the countries concerned.
Official sources said the government had also instructed the NRI community and OCI (overseas citizens of India) cardholders to help the Indians stuck abroad.
“The repatriation of Indian students, who are stuck in the UK and are on short-term visas, will also have to wait. There is a lockdown going on and they will have to wait until there is clarity (on the movement) at a later time,” the MEA official said.
According to government sources, around 3,336 Indians in 53 countries have been diagnosed with Covid-19, while the number of deaths has reached 25.
The Indian government had earlier this month also asked the US government to extend the visas of all citizens stranded in the country.
The UAE government has, meanwhile, offered to assist India in bringing stranded nationals back home.
The UAE’s Ambassador to India, Dr Ahmed Abdul Rahman Al Banna, states that his country is ready to fly stranded Indians and citizens of other countries, who wish to be repatriated, if they test negative for #COVID__19 #DedicationAtWorkSafetyAtHome@UAEembassyIndia pic.twitter.com/vM5lrUY8i4
— UAE Forsan (@UAE_Forsan) April 11, 2020
India, too, has been helping send back foreigners stranded in the country. According to government sources, India has so far helped repatriate 35,000 foreigners from 48 countries.
Hydroxychloroquine, paracetamol exports to continue
Official sources said India will continue to export hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that has been touted as a viable treatment for Covid-19 by the likes of US President Donald Trump even as research continues.
Exports of paracetamol, which has also been talked about for its treatment potential, will also continue, the sources added.
The government has given its nod to the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) to export these drugs to 55 countries, including India’s seven fellow members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Out of these 55, the sources said, 21 countries will receive them on a commercial basis while the others will be offered the drugs as a humanitarian grant.
In the initial shipments, the sources said, as many as 13 countries had received hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol from India. The demand for these drugs, the sources added, was growing.
“We have done the stocktaking and assessed the domestic requirement, created a buffer stock and then exported the surplus … This exercise is going on. It is now a well-oiled system,” the aforementioned MEA official said.
India is now in the process of sending shipments of hydroxychloroquine to Germany, and has also approved export of the drug to the UAE.
Shipments have already been sent to the US, Brazil, Spain, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Seychelles, and Mauritius, among other countries, and others.
More testing kits to be procured
On Thursday, India received 6.5 lakh Covid-19 testing kits from China — 5.5 lakh of these are rapid antibody testing kits from Wondfo Biotech Co and Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostics Inc, while 1 lakh are RNA extraction kits from MGI Shenzhen.
“Our embassy in Beijing and our consulate in Guangzhou have played a key role in tying up and expediting these supplies,” said the MEA official.
“There were particular challenges considering the supply crunch, local regulations requiring registration etc. Special efforts were made with local authorities for customs clearance. The mission also helped get necessary clearances for airlines that transported this cargo as they were operating on non-scheduled flights,” the official added.
Sources said the government will procure more testing kits from South Korea soon, while quotations have been obtained from companies in the UK, Malaysia, France, Canada and the US.
“We have also obtained leads from companies in Germany and Japan,” said the official.
Sources said Indian missions were also “closely coordinating with concerned agencies” for the supply of PPE (personal protective equipment) kits. “A large consignment is expected shortly,” the official said.
This report has been updated with additional information