External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar today assured the Rajya Sabha that safe return of Indians stranded in Iran and Italy due to the coronavirus situation was receiving focused attention of the government, which was committed to the safety and welfare of Indian nationals in any part of the world.

Replying to clarifications sought by members on his statement on the Indians stranded in Iran due to the Covid-19 situation, he said there was no need to panic as the government had initiated several steps to come to the aid of Indians abroad. “This has been the hallmark of our foreign policy,” he said.

E-visas were suspended following information of the Covid-19 cases in Germany and France. By tomorrow a medical team would be sent to Italy for the return of Indians stranded there. A medical team was already deputed in Italy to set up testing and sampling facilities there.

The minister said there were over 6000 Indian nationals in various provinces of Iran. These included 1100 pilgrims from Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir and Maharashtra. There were also 300 students from J&K and about 1000 fishermen from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.

Referring to Italy he said, “The situation in Italy is now emerging as a cause of great concern and steps were already initiated to face it.”

Several Rajya Sabha members, including the leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, wanted to know the progress of the return of the Indians, and referred to the shortage of food and other essential items faced by them at different places.

The minister said the focus had lately shifted to Iran, after Wuhan in China, following the sharp increase in coronavirus cases there. Direct flights between India and Iran were suspended from 27 February and advisories were issued to avoid travel there. The Indian nationals were advised to take all precautions.

Given the large number of cases, the situation in Iran was prioritised, and the first focus was on the pilgrims, their age being a factor. Then, the students’ return was taken up. Many of them were medical students and knew about the precautions. The fishermen were located in areas which were not severely affected.

The first batch of 108 samples was received from Iran on 7 March. These were tested and the first batch of 58 Indians arrived back in the country yesterday. On the fight, this group came, 529 more samples came and were being tested at the National Institute of Virology, Pune. More samples were being collected in Tehran.

The Indian medical team and embassy staff in Iran were working round-the-clock. There were problems of transport and the Iranian system was under strain, Jaishankar said. At the government level, a group of secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary was monitoring the situation.

AK Antony (Congress) said 100 Indians, 28 of them from Kerala, were stranded at the deserted Milan airport in Italy. Derek O’Brien (Trinamul Congress) said the Centre should look at steps taken by states on the coronavirus situation.