Coronavirus: International meets will require Health Ministry's approval

Students wearing protective masks participate in a demonstration 'Delhi Chalo' against Citizenship (Amendment) Act at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi

All government departments will consult the health ministry before organising conferences and international meets in the country in the coming days, it was decided on Wednesday at an inter-ministerial meeting chaired by the principal secretary to the prime minister.

A statement from the Prime Minister's Office said in the light of recommendations made by public health experts to avoid "big public gatherings", "it was decided that all government departments and ministries shall consult Ministry of Health before organising conferences and international meetings in the country at present".

At the meeting, chaired by P K Mishra, the Home Ministry was tasked with working closely with state governments, including relevant district administration officials, to ensure compliance with screening protocols at Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) on India's land borders.

The National Informatics Centre has been asked to provide the requisite support to the Bureau of Immigration and MHA in this regard, the statement said.

Decisions were also taken to rapidly implement opening of proper testing, isolation and quarantine facilities in various parts of the country, down to the district level in partnership with state governments.

A broad spectrum of issues were reviewed at the meeting.

"Two important changes since yesterday to further enhance our level of preparedness, namely introduction of universal screening at all international airports and sea-ports through use of thermal imagery equipment, as well as mandatory filling of declaration forms of places visited by tourists and travellers returning from abroad, were noted by all concerned for operationalisation," the statement said.

To disseminate information in a timely manner, including relevant advisories and "Do's and Don'ts", Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was tasked with working closely with the health and HRD ministries and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The health ministry briefed that the 24-hour medical helpline operational across the country since January 23 has so far received over 6000 phone calls, the statement said.

It was highlighted that participation of the communities and local bodies is essential to combat the public health challenge posed by the virus. It was also decided to explore the greater involvement of private sector.

Wednesday's meet was the latest in a series of stock-taking meetings at the PMO, with the first held on January 25.

It was attended by the Cabinet Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, secretaries of ministries of Health, Civil Aviation, Information and Broadcasting, Shipping, Tourism, Chairman (Airport Authority of India), Secretary (Border Management), MHA and senior officials from defence forces, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Niti Aayog and the PMO.

"The pro-active measures taken so far which have contained spread of the virus in India, despite a big population and geographical proximity to the epicentre of the disease, were appreciated by all. At the same time, it was decided to further enhance the effectiveness of the steps taken by adopting a pan-government approach, in partnership with the states," the statement said.

A separate statement from Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government has already set up 15 new virology labs and 19 more will be set up within one week across the country.

Travel advisories have also been issued. A big awareness campaign has been launched across the country, especially in schools, colleges and elsewhere and people are being taught about the "do's and don'ts" to prevent possible infection.

Also a Group of Ministers constituted on the directions of the prime minister to check the country's preparedness held its meeting to take stock of the situation.

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