Screening of cargo vessels gather pace at various ports

To minimise the risk of spread of the deadly coronavirus through foreign trade, the government has screened more than 829 cargo vessels coming from countries worst hit by the virus such as China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Iran and Japan, over the last 10 days at the 12 major ports and 65 non-major ports in India.

More than 29,000 passengers and crew have been screened as well as isolation wards set up at the major ports, as per the numbers put together by the Health Ministry to share with other Ministries and Departments.

“Initially, there was a discussion amongst officials on whether cargo ships from affected countries should be stopped. But then it was felt that stopping imports of crucial items could deal a severe blow to Indian industry already struggling to cope with the disruption in the global supply chain. So, it was decided that all measures would be taken to ensure that the vessels that carry goods into India are properly screened and sanitised so that there is no risk of the virus spreading through these,” a government official told.

China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Nepal and Italy are amongst the countries worst-hit by coronavirus.

Various sectors such as pharmaceuticals, mobile phones, electronics and automobiles are dependent on imports from countries such as China, Japan and South Korea for their inputs.

In fact, China was India’s top-most import source in 2018-19 with total imports at $70.39 billion. The country was also India’s third largest export destination with outbound shipments valued at $16.5 billion.

While cargo ships are being allowed into the country the government has prohibited cruise ships till March 31, 2020.

Protective gear is being given to all pilots and personnel who board ships for enforcement.

Ports like Gopalpur in Odisha have started quarantining vessels for 14 days that have come from the affected countries.

There is also increased surveillance at points of entry at land ports. Movement through land borders has been restricted to 20 check posts and Integrated Customs Checkposts (ICPs) having robust screening.

Apart from screening through hand-held scanners at integrated check posts bordering Nepal, mandatory declaration forms are being obtained from passengers, as per the Health Ministry.

Gram Sabhas have been organised in 21 districts bordering Nepal in collaboration with state governments and eight Central teams have been deputed to States to monitor conduct of meetings.