About 1,400 Indians in the Gulf region are being kept in isolation and treated for suspected infection, according to people aware of the matter. The number of confirmed cases in the region is pegged at 11,290 while 134 people have died due to coronavirus.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to leaders of all six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman – and they have assured the welfare of Indians living there, said the people. India’s diplomatic missions have established contact with community leaders in the region and the situation is under control, said one of the persons, who did not wish to be identified.
India, on its part, has been allowing cargo flights for carrying food items including fruits and vegetables to the Gulf, which is dependent on regular supplies of these commodities from the country. India is also supplying medicines on the request of countries in the region, said the person cited earlier.
On Thursday, the external affairs ministry held a meeting to handle the situation in the Gulf amid the spread of Covid-19. The full impact of Covid-19 on the Indian diaspora can, however, be assessed only after the lockdown is lifted in both India and the Gulf, said officials and industry executives.
“Thousands of workers in the construction sector are waiting for flight operations to resume to go back to India from GCC countries. More than 40% employees in the hospitality, aviation, automotive, shipping, shopping malls and retail sectors in GCC countries are Indians and they too have been badly affected by Covid-19,” said Ravi Pillai, chairman of the RP Group, which has interests in various sectors and is the largest employer of Indian workforce in the Gulf.
Pillai said the Gulf countries are hugely impacted by the double whammy of coronavirus and a sharp drop in oil revenue. “Industries that are the most vulnerable include construction, retail (non-food), food and beverages, aviation, tourism, hospitality, automotive, shipping and real estate,” he said, pointing out that a vast majority of Indians in GCC countries are dependent on these sectors.
The governments in these countries are offering free treatment and other facilities to the diaspora, just as to their own citizens, said people with knowledge of the matter. These countries have also imposed travel restrictions and social distancing, along with undertaking widespread testing and contact tracing to contain the spread of Covid-19, they said.
Companies, such as the Abu Dhabi-headquartered Lulu Group, one of the biggest Indian run conglomerates in the Gulf region, are also taking steps to safeguard and protect employees by measures such as sanitisation and deep cleaning of both the workplace and accommodation of workers. Staff members are being thoroughly tested for any symptoms and medical and counselling facilities are being provided. Work from home policy has also been implemented and no staff member has been asked to go on leave or laid off.
S. Irudaya Rajan, professor, Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, said the concern at present is mainly about Indian workers in the Gulf getting their basic necessities looked after and medical treatment if they are suffering from Covid-19 illness. The issue of returning workers will have to be addressed once the present crisis settles down, he said.
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