India’s Consul General advises community on COVID-19 related issues for Indians, Indian-Americans

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India’s Consul General in New York Sandeep Chakravorty, speaks with ITV Gold’s Aditi Lamba, March 16, 2020, on COVID-19 related issues facing the community. (Photo: ITV Gold/Parikh Worldwide Media)

India’s Consul General in New York is advising all Indians and Indian-Americans to avoid travel to India unless they have an unavoidable situation. He also praised New Delhi’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis that has enveloped most countries around the globe, and extended help to students and others in extraordinary circumstances.

Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty, in an exclusive interview on ITV Gold which is a part of Parikh Worldwide Media, said the Indian Consulate in New York which has jurisdiction over a large Indian and Indian-American community in the U.S., was ready to help with any exceptions to the travel ban issued by New Delhi, but called for patience as the system was ‘blocked’ and all requests are being handled ‘manually’.

During the more than half hour interview, Chakravorty answered questions, and advised the community, including students from India, “Don’t travel to India if you can avoid it,” and to observe advisories in the U.S., and practice social distancing to the greatest possible extent in order not to spread the virus.

With regard to displaced Indian students who had been forced to leave their campus dorm rooms, Chakravorty said, “I would request our community organizations to step in. It would be a great help if they could offer housing,” The Consulate led by the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C., has set up an education helpline, and is working “closely” with organizations like the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), Telugu Association of North America (TANA), organizations in Cleveland, Ohio, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), etc. Chakravorty said. “We can connect those in need to community members,” he said, to prevent the plight of students who may have to return to India without finishing their studies or training.

Chakravorty, who thanked ITV Gold for hosting the segment, said Indians in the U.S. were “doubly” affected by the COVID-19 crisis – with the situation here and that back home in India.

Watch the televised version:

He called the steps taken so far by the Indian government as “very reassuring” starting since January when it banned travel from China, and then later also from all countries of Europe.

“The whole goal is that because of transmission, the curve doesn’t go up and is flattened. We delay its expansion and we combat it,” the Consul General noted.

As for how India is dealing with it, Chakravorty said the government was aware “that because of the population and the proximity in which we live, COVID can expand quickly.” But it had taken many measures to combat that spread. “And one point we need to keep in mind – so far we have not had community and society spread in India. Our cases are mostly due to travel. We have been able to trace travel to up to 4,000 contacts from Italy or Middle East. We have been able to isolate those cases, and put those people in quarantine.”

He gave more specific figures saying India had in the last several days – screened 1.2 million passengers at 30 airports, on 11,406 flights, apart from tracing 4,000 contacts of potential carriers. The number of cases so far, he said, were 84. “Given India’s size of population, that is a remarkably low number,” he said. However, the situation was fluid, he conceded, and repeatedly warned against travel to India during the interview.

“COVID is ahead of us. The whole idea is to control expansion; elf isolate, not to have too much contact.” he said adding that there have been many school closures in India.

India has been good in combating such epidemics and viruses, “Don’t panic. We have to combat the situation jointly,” he said.

While some in the community may have been inconvenienced by the travel bans imposed by India, (and in U.S.), Chakravorty said, “it is for your convenience, your health, health of family members,”

He also noted how India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a teleconference of leaders from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and announced an initial $10 million fund, and the setting up of an expert team of emergency personnel, and online training, as measures for collaboration. “Pandemics and viruses don’t have borders,” Chakravorty said.

“I would like to commend the people of India. There is not as much panic as one would have expected,” and on the whole, the people have handled things “calmly and positively” and “respecting” the instructions the government is issuing.

Chakravorty also praised the evacuation by India of not only Indian citizens but also others, from numerous countries.

Chakravorty said on the first day after travel ban was announced by India, his office fielded 1,100 calls in just one day. When asked by ITV Gold host Aditi Lamba on what have been the major concerns of Indians and Indian-Americans who are contacting the Indian Consulate,

The major issues of concern were expressed by people with regard to visas, and from students and parents because so many colleges and universities had been shut down in the U.S..

“Visas are not cancelled. They are suspended,” Chakravorty repeatedly emphasized, noting those with visas or Overseas Citizenship cards cannot travel currently. “But with limited exceptions” in the case of death in a family, or those critically ill. He urged patience from the community because each and every exception was being handled “manually” because “systems have been blocked.”

“But we will very, very sympathetically and expeditiously consider your request,” the Consul General reassured.

As for students, “Don’t go to India if you can avoid it,” he said also in the event that they have been in Europe, including U.K. and Turkey, or Middle East, they would be put in quarantine, and if they develop any symptoms during travel they would also be put into quarantine upon arrival.

Chakravorty recognized the difficult situation facing those Indians here whose H1 visas are expiring and who have minor children, “We will make exceptions. But our whole idea is to keep those exceptions to the bare minimum.”

One caller from Cleveland, OH, representing TANA, said his organization had established a hotline so students could seek help (1-855-OURTANA), and that many local businesses and families had stepped forward to offer temporary housing to students.

As for Indian and other businesses operating in the U.S.-India corridor, Chakravorty praised them for their resilience and contingency plans, but emphasized that COVID-19 also presented an opportunity to businesses.

“This is a temporary phenomenon. We will overcome it as we have overcome other such epidemics or pandemics. COVID also throws up opportunities – it also requires you to change your plans, change your sourcing, change game plans and strategies.”

“We are all looking at a world post-COVID, otherwise what are we doing?” questioned Chakravorty.

He also said his biggest concern was the safety employees of the Consulate who have to commute, calling it a “constant worry.”

But, he concluded, “We need to take precautions, but we should not panic. The moment we panic, we lost the case.”

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