NEW DELHI, March 12 (Xinhua) -- India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Thursday said that the Central Government was doing every bit to take care of the Indians stranded abroad, amid the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
He said that every possible effort was being made to bring back Indians, and their welfare on the foreign lands.
The total number of COVID-19 cases in the country rose to 73 on Thursday, confirmed the Central Health Ministry.
Referring to the visa ban announced last night, the minister stated that the Indian Government decided on Wednesday to take more stringent measures in regard to international travel.
"All the cases so far have come directly from those who have a travel history. In doing so, we are clear that we will do whatever must be done to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 is restricted and the health security of India ensured," said the minister.
Regarding the issue of bringing back Indians from Iran, he said that there were over 6000 Indians stranded in Iran, and serious efforts were being made to test them there and proper health and other arrangements made for them.
"There are over 6000 Indian nationals in various provinces of Iran. These include about 1100 pilgrims, nearly 300 students, about 1000 fishermen, including from the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, and others who are on longer term stay in Iran for pursuing their livelihood and religious studies," said Jaishankar in his statement in the Indian Parliament's lower house "Lok Sabha."
He told the parliamentarians that a team of six Indian health officials had been deputed to Iran in order to set up testing and sampling facilities there. The first batch of 108 samples were received in India on March 7. These were tested and 58 Indian pilgrims, who tested negative, were repatriated in special IAF C-17 flight on March 10.
"We have also received samples of 529 more Indians on this flight which are being tested in National Institute of Virology in Pune. So far, 299 of them have tested negative. We continue to collect more samples in Tehran and our endeavor is to ensure the earliest possible return of our nationals after appropriate testing and screening," added Jaishankar
As Indian Government started receiving information about the spike in COVID-19 cases in Iran, as a precautionary measure direct flights from Iran were temporarily suspended with effect from Feb. 27.
Advisories were issued to avoid travel and returning passengers were started to be screened.
As far as bringing back of Indians is concerned, the initial focus is on the pilgrims visiting Iran.
"Many of them are in Qom where COVID-19 incidence has been strong. The nature of their residency also increases the risks of exposure. Age is also a factor that was taken into account. As their welfare is being currently addressed, we are now focusing on Indian students. Many of them are studying medicine and are fully aware of the precautions to be taken in this difficult situation," added the Minister.