By P Kumaran Indian ambassador to Qatar
I would be stating the obvious, if I said we are going through difficult times. The Covid-19 crisis is certainly one of the biggest challenges to public health during our lifetimes. The total number of deaths has crossed 100,000, even as the total number of infected persons is approaching the 2mn mark. What is striking about this crisis is that it has overwhelmed prosperous economies with some of the best healthcare infrastructure on the planet. Naturally, this has caused serious worries to governments that are relatively less-equipped to deal with such a major health emergency.
As far as our host country Qatar is concerned, there has been a fair amount of success till date in containing the spread of the novel coronavirus within manageable levels. The government has taken a number of decisive steps to address the crisis, including through reducing public gatherings, ordering the closure of non-essential businesses, imposing a ban on entry of foreigners into Qatar, and enforcing a lockdown of parts of the Industrial Area which houses a large number of blue-collar workers, stopping just short of a comprehensive lockdown. It has also embarked on a massive programme to enhance the awareness of citizens and expatriate residents regarding observing sanitary precautions and social distancing. Over the past few weeks, the government has set up a number of new facilities such as field hospitals, isolation and quarantine areas, and Covid-19 helplines to assist potentially infected persons. It has also expanded testing facilities, availability of masks and sanitisers for the public and PPE for medical and paramedical professionals, and has arranged for home delivery of medicines by Hamad Medical Corporation for patients.
I am grateful that the government has announced that Covid-19 related treatment will be provided to everyone resident in Qatar, including those who may not have currently valid work permits or health cards. I am happy to inform that we are working closely with a number of Indian community associations, including the Indian Doctors Club and associations of Indian paramedics, to provide members of the Indian community all necessary medical assistance and counselling. We are also in constant touch with concerned authorities in the Government of Qatar to raise issues of concern to the Indian community as and when they arise and are thankful for their cooperation.
Along with these steps to address the spread of the virus, the government has also taken measures to mitigate the inevitable economic hardships these restrictions entail. It has ensured availability of food and essential services without interruption, announced an economic package worth QR 75bn to support businesses affected by the restrictions, particularly to meet their obligations towards payment of wages to employees, and deferred payment of rents to help reduce pressure on their working capital. The key role played by Qatar Charity and Qatar Red Crescent Society in helping provide food packets for workers in the Industrial Area and elsewhere is worth mentioning. Recognising the fact that a number of foreigners are unable to travel out of Qatar due to the travel restrictions in place in many countries, the government has also been liberal in granting extension of visas for such persons.
The Covid-19 crisis has underlined the need for all of us to address this challenge in a united and concerted manner. India was one of the first countries to advocate a coordinated approach to deal with the crisis and played an instrumental role in organising a meeting of the SAARC heads of states. India also urged G-20 countries to accord primacy to this crisis and helped convene a video summit to discuss this issue. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, held telephonic conversations with all important Gulf leaders, including His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and discussed inter alia the welfare of the Indian community. We continue to work with the international community to make available essential drugs and vaccines produced by Indian companies, despite the massive need for such products within India during these difficult times.
As the largest expatriate community in Qatar, we are significant stake-holders in ensuring that the spread of Covid-19 is kept under control and gradually brought down to minimum levels. The Embassy of India operates a 24X7 Covid-19 Helpline and also a Consular Helpline, to continue to assist Indian nationals in need. Indian community associations have come together to form dedicated teams of doctors, paramedics, and volunteers, working in close cooperation with the Embassy, to render services to needy members of the community. The creation of closed communication groups, convening of regular review meetings and extensive use of social media, have helped us to effectively complement the efforts of the Qatari government in reaching out to as many members of the community as possible.
I take this opportunity to commend the Government of Qatar for its pragmatic handling of the situation. Under the wise leadership of His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar, the government has committed itself to taking care of all citizens and residents alike during these difficult times.
I urge all my fellow Indians in Qatar to exercise patience and extend full cooperation to the government authorities in their efforts to deal with the crisis. It is important to remember that, the more disciplined we are in observing the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, the more successful we will be in defeating it, and the earlier the ongoing restrictions will end and our lives will return to normal.
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