India Bans Entry of Foreigners for a Month, WHO Declares Coronavirus a 'Pandemic'

All visas for travel to India stand suspended from March 13 to April 15 with exceptions made only for holders of diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment and project visas.

New Delhi: In a sweeping travel ban that will likely affect thousands of travellers, including many of Indian origin, who had planned visits to India, the government has suspended all tourist and student visas as well as the visa-free entry of Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) card holders for a month beginning March 13, 2020.

A travel advisory issued soon after the high-level Group of Ministers headed by Union health ministers Harsh Vardhan and civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri met here on Wednesday to take stock of measure to contain the spread of the new coronavirus noted that any foreigner departing for India from overseas after 12 pm GMT (5:30 pm IST) on March 13 would no longer be able to enter the country.

While Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card holders have also been brought under the ban, holders of diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment and project visas will be exempt. The ban will “come into effect from 1200 GMT on March 13, 2020 at the port of departure” and be in place till April 15. The advisory notes that “any foreign national who intends to travel to India for compelling reason” should get in touch with the nearest Indian embassy or consulate for guidance.

The ban means that the last flight foreigners with valid visas who wish to come to India between now and April 15 would have to leave Tokyo by 9 pm local time on March 13 or by 8 am from New York

India’s travel ban – one of the harshest to be imposed by any country thus far – came on the day the WHO declared the spread of the new coronavirus to be a “global pandemic”.

Apart from the visa suspension, the new advisory also announced a tough new quarantine regime for those passengers entering the country on flights that depart from anywhere in the world after 12 pm GMT on March 13. Specifically:

“All incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15th February, 2020 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days. This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 13th March 2020 at the port of departure.”

In an attempt to discourage Indians from travelling abroad at present, the advisory warns that they run the risk of being quarantined upon their return:

“Incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, are advised to avoid non-essential travel and are informed that they can be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days on their arrival in India.

“Indian nationals are strongly advised to avoid all non-essential travel abroad. On their return, they can be subjected to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.”

Apart from restrictions on air passengers, the GoM also decided that “international traffic through land borders will be restricted to designated check posts with robust screening facilities” which would be notified separately by the Union home ministry.