Dharamshala: Following PM Modi’s official announcement to extend the nation-wide lockdown till 3 May earlier this Tuesday, President Dr Lobsang Sangay of the Central Tibetan Administration today urged all the Tibetans to render support and cooperation in maintaining the discipline and above all urged them to adhere strictly to the directions issued by the Government of India.
President was addressing the situation of Tibetans worldwide dealing with COVID-19. President notified that approximately 100 Tibetans are said to have contracted the virus of which he clarified that many of them have been cured.
President commended the members of CTA’s Task Force committee on COVID-19, emergency response committee and staff of the Health Department led by Health Kalon Choekyong Wangchuk for maintaining stability within the community while keeping the public well informed.
Speaking at the press briefing, President mentioned that the government of India has released a classified list of all the red-zone districts (districts that have recorded a maximum number of coronavirus positive cases) and informed that Himachal Pradesh has been excluded from the list. In addition, he informed that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in excellent health and assures the public not to worry.
“So far, no cases of COVID-19 have been found among the staff of CTA. We are committed to doing the work that needs to be done,” said President Sangay.
Despite the lock-down ends on 3 May or not, President advised Tibetans to continue social distancing and to avoid unnecessary travel even if the restriction is lifted off sooner or later.
“If one confirmed case is found within our community, it could potentially wreak havoc to the rest of the communities,” he notified.
Meanwhile, President Dr. Sangay via the briefing applauded the services being offered by the Tibetans in South India including the monasteries to the needy and underprivileged locals in the supply of essentials. He also applauded the contributions and donations made by Tibetan individuals and organisations towards respective state and district COVID-19 relief fund.
Kalon for Department of Health, Choekyong Wangchuk in his remarks attributed the stable, coronavirus-free situation in Tibetan communities to the constant support and guidance of the Central, State and District Government. He expressed heartfelt thanks and gratitude.
He also acknowledged the close-knit cooperation among the branch units of the Health department, Delek Hosptial and Mentsee Khang across India in driving the key initiatives for safeguarding people against the coronavirus.
Under his leadership, a task force committee was formed on 19 March presided by the Kalon, personal physicians to His Holiness the Dalai Lama Dr Tsetan Dorjee Sadutshang and Dr Tsewang Tamdin. The committee comprises of doctors from both Delek hospital and Mentsee khang and heads of various divisions of the health department.
Over 11 task force meetings have been convened to date. On 31 March, a special emergency response committee led by Secretaries of the seven departments was established. The response committee has convened on more than 3 occasions in the presence of President Dr Sangay.
In total, more than 17 to 18 meetings have been convened among the executive members to develop a cohesive action plan for the CTA headquarters as well as for the Tibetan settlements across India, Nepal and Bhutan.
Kalon Choekyong Wangchuk also reviewed the steps taken within the various divisions of the health department to prepare and tackle the pandemic.
From March-end, as proposed in the response plan, eight special divisions focussed on tackling coronavirus was formed and the staff of the department were charged with these responsibilities. They have been working round the clock to offer all the required services.
The eight special divisions focus on ensuring the welfare of the elderly, others who are vulnerable including youth and children. A tele-counselling service has been initiated to help them. Others include deploying medical equipments and essential requirements for the branch hospitals and evaluating the day to day status of the Tibetan settlements and issuing guidance from time to time.
Health Secretary Palden Dhondup provided a detailed report on the steps taken in response to the outbreak through the 8 special divisions.
The first division is led by professional nurses who evaluate the status on infections in the community. Over 1151 Tibetans are currently under quarantine and are being monitored for symptoms by the nurses. Those who show no signs of the virus after the incubation period are released from the quarantine to return safely to their homes.
Secondly, as a long term response measure, preparations are underway to convert the community quarantine centres in various settlements to COVID-19 Management centres. Th COVID-29 Management Centre will be activated to tackle potential new infections that may be expected after the lockdown period and travels around the world resumes in full force.
Testing for fever and flu-like symptoms have been conducted successfully in all settlements by the concerned health officials. A committee has been charged with assisting and providing support to the quarantine centres in the settlements by establishing channels with the district and state government centres. As of now, more than 36 Tibetan settlements have been officially registered with the local authority bodies.
More than 70 percent of Tibetan Health units in the settlements are well-equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE). In the coming week, the Secretary said, the situation will get better and PPEs will be available in all units.
Health Secretary also briefed on the arrangements of ambulance and emergency use vehicles, youth volunteers to assist settlement offices in cases of emergency situations.
CTA Information Secretary, TG Arya in his address, spoke about the efforts of the Department of Information in disseminating CTA’s precautionary measures and guidance to the public. He shared that these efforts were well received by the public.
He added that the news websites of Tibet.net and Bod.asia carry daily updates and information concerning the situation and added that email subscriptions are also available. They are also available for download on android and apple systems.
He urged people to follow these websites for news on the Education department’s initiatives eg, online learning materials and pointed out that COVID-19 helpline is available for those who need guidance in their respective regions.
He informed that the Department of Information was in contact with representatives of Tibetan communities based abroad and they have reached out to regional MPs to inform them of the situation in Tibetan communities and are seeking government aid.
He then gave guidance on visa extension and explained that visa validity is authorised by the immigration officer at the airport after arrival in India, which is issued for the duration of 1, 2 or at the most 6 months. In case of visa expiration, the settlement office’s FRRO must be contacted and its link: www.indianfrro.gov.in/frro where all the necessary details are provided.
“If you need to return to your country urgently before the lockdown is lifted, then contact your government representative. Many countries like the US and France are making arrangements for their citizens stranded in the lockdown”, said Mr Arya.
Home Secretary, Ms Tsewang Dolma, in her address, described the 5 main initiatives taken by the Department of Home to fight the crisis and its impact.
She listed them as 1) Providing care for the elderly people as the highest concern. 2) Elderly and those living without the help of spouse or children. 3) general public 4) Tibetans from abroad who have come to visit and are stranded due to the travel restrictions and 5) Settlers/Indian neighbours.
In terms of providing elderly care, Secretary Tsewang Dolma explained that a total of 24 old age homes- 14 under the CTA and 10 NGOs are being included under the initiative. The Department of Home is overseeing the wellbeing of over 763 elderly people.
Secondly, she said, there are a total of 180 persons who are entirely dependent on CTA aid and for those, monthly monetary aid, a policy which has been in place for 10 years, is set to increase. While previously those in the age group between 65 to 89 received Rs 1500, it is now raised to Rs 2000 and those between the age group of 90 to 100 will increase from Rs 4500-7000.
Regarding general public, door to door sanitisation is being done across settlements in India under the guidance of the settlement offices. The settlement offices as well the Tibetan monasteries are actively contributing towards promoting the access to essential requirements in the respective regions. More and more Tibetans and monasteries and settlement offices have also come forward to contribute to the PM CARES fund, Chief Minister’s relief fund as well as the District COVID-19 fund.
So far, no cases are reported from the 43 Tibetan settlements.
Lastly, in order to provide assistance to the Tibetans who are stranded in India due to the travel restrictions, the Department of Information and Security are working towards facilitating their visa extension. The settlement offices and Department of Health are also working on assisting them.
This is the 7th press briefing by President Dr Lobsang Sangay on coronavirus.