Indian envoy to United States Taranjit Singh Sandhu

In an interview with Zee Media, Indian envoy to the United States Taranjit Singh Sandhu talks about the situation of the Indian community amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

Indian envoy to United States Taranjit Singh Sandhu has said that India & the US have been closely cooperating on the COVID-19 crisis, with India's Indian Council of Medical Research and America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention being in touch at a technical level. Speaking to Zee Media, Envoy Sandhu talked about how the mission is reaching out to over 200,000 students & thousands of Indian community members. His message to the Indian community is that they must stay where ever they are and follow local advisories.

How are Indian students doing, are they safe? & visa issues, H1B remains top concern? 

Taranjit Singh Sandhu: Students are of special category, there are a total of 200,000 Indian students in the United States and when this health emergency struck, we immediately, got in touch with them through traditional means of our website, emails, social media but we also created a unique platform--a student peer support line through which we got in touch with different association and bodies. We have almost 8 thousand contacts and through them, we were in touch with 50 thousand students. We have been able to interact with them. In fact, very recently through Instagram, I spoke to almost 25,000 students on the weekend, we have been approached by the students via various mechanism. We were able to find out they had problems regarding accommodation following which we immediately contacted the university authorities. Most of the university authorities have accommodated the students on the campus, in some cases where there was an issue we got in touch with local associations, many of them are of Indian origin and they have come forward and offered, free accommodation to many of our students including some of them who were having problems with getting supplies, those also have been accommodated. Our consulates and embassies are in touch with them, whenever they require any assistance or any supply, help, we provide them. Many of them also have medical issues, which we through the Indian American doctors, through telephones and telelines we have been able to provide them medical emergency assistance and finally, we had issues with visas and we are in touch with US authorities and we are trying to facilitate the resolution of these issues. I would also like to mention, we have come out with 20 detailed advisories which clearly lay out what all the students need to do to resolve many of these problems. 

How is the mission reaching out to the Indian community as COVID spreads in US? 

Taranjit Singh Sandhu: With regard to the Indian community, just to put it in perspective there are 200,000 students, 600,000 green card holders, there are 125,000 H1Bs and in addition, regularly there are a large number of Indian tourist who travels. On March 11th we proactively reached out through our website, through our social media accounts, through Indian community leaders and we informed them of the situation, the developing and the evolving situation and whoever wanted to return we facilitated their return between March 11 to March 22, In fact, A number of OCI cardholders, whose parents were based in India, number of other emergency cases including were some deaths took place, we facilitated their return. In addition, we also set up 24*7 helpline since March 11 they are continuously functioning, many of Indian nationals and other Indian origin persons residing in the US have continuously contacted us through these medium and whatever assistance we have required we have tried to facilitate that. 

What will u suggest to the Indian community considering that the US Is the worst-hit country in the world?

Taranjit Singh Sandhu: Through your medium, I would like to request Indian nationals that it is very very important, that they follow the medical directives that are being issued by local authorities, the state authorities, and the US authorities even in India and 2 very essential aspects of those are- avoid any travel, second, keep a social distance. Other medical advisories are very common, and they are also requested to follow them. The number of cases so far have been very limited and that shows, that most of the students are closely following the advisories. My request again will be, please, ensure your wellbeing and also the well being of the people around you, and the others in the community, that is extremely important. 

How are the Indian diplomats doing, given how Indian diplomats now face the biggest challenge of the century, the COVID crisis, from China to US?

Taranjit Singh Sandhu: I must compliment all the Indian diplomats, who are posted in the embassy and in the consulate. They have come forward and faced this challenge, with full responsibility and all our missions have been functioning and they continue to function even in extreme circumstances and by god's grace, everybody so far is safe. We will continue to be of assistance, Indian nationals and others whoever will seek assistance. 

How was your conversation with PM over the COVID crisis?

Taranjit Singh Sandhu: The leadership in India, particularly the prime minister has taken a very proactive interest in our activities. First and foremost he held a video conference where he gave us a lot of encouragement and a lot of support and also inquired about the welfare of all the officers and their family and that itself served as great encouragement for us. Secondly, he was very clear in instructing us, that the welfare of Indian nationals and welfare of Indian origin people, is important, so we have been very proactive keeping in touch with different community members and associations who regularly check on their welfare and whenever any problem comes to our notice, we try to resolve and facilitate with the local authorities. Finally, the PM mentioned, that it is important, to follow what progress is taking place, especially, in terms of medicine and diagnostic and are keeping a close track in that aspect and keep ICMR and other important medical authorities in India fully informed.

How are India and the US coordinating on the COVID crisis? We gave Hydroxychloroquine to US, has it reached the US? 

Taranjit Singh Sandhu: On the issue of coronavirus, there has been close cooperation between the 2 sides, at the leadership level, President Trump called PM Modi, EAM has been in touch with the secretary of state and deputy secretary of state who is part of the core team in Washington DC who has been in touch with the foreign secretary. At the technical level, there has been close cooperation between CDC and ICMR. They have in past too collaborated to create some vaccines, including the rotavirus, then they have worked toward developing medicines, also on diagnostics kits. In the area of medicine, there has been close cooperation between the 2 sides, we have recently supplied Hydroxychloroquine to US, in fact, President Trump has publicly appreciated India's goodwill. There is strong cooperation between India and the US and there is a partnership that is ongoing.