Airports have become the first line of defence in India’s battle against coronavirus. While many nations have issued various travel bans, India’s also cancelled all visas till April 15. India now has 126 confirmed cases of coronavirus. More than 25,000 people are being monitored for symptoms. Emergency isolation wards and centres are being set up across the country, and people are being treated in Delhi, Kerela, Noida, Maharashtra, Jaipur, Agra, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
From 6 February, India restricted access to those with a Chinese passport, or foreigners who have travelled to China in the recent past. It has also evoked all visas (including e-Visas already issued) to anyone travelling from or through China.
On Tuesday, India barred entry of the nationals of three more countries, France, Germany and Spain, suspending the regular as well as e-Visas granted to them till date, if they have not yet entered the country. As per the latest travel advisory issued by the government of India in response coronavirus, all visas and e-visas issued to nationals of France, Germany and Spain who have not entered India stand suspended with immediate effect.
India today further extended its ban on arriving international passengers and said that it would not provide entry to even Indian passport holders residing in the United Kingdom, Turkey and whole of Europe till the end of March.
In addition, Indians have been asked to avoid all “non-essential travel” to Singapore, South Korea, Iran, and Italy. Passengers arriving through half a dozen countries (see the list below) are being screened at all international airports for symptoms of the flu or respiratory illnesses.
This ban follows a recent ban on entry foreign passport holders and Overseas Indian Citizen (OCI) cardholders into the country starting Friday last week. However, Indian passport holders were allowed to enter India. This ban is set to impact flight operations of many airlines, who will now have to cancel flights into India till the end of this month.
But if you are looking to come back home and are an Indian passport holder, here's what India's restrictions and precautions are:
Flights And Airports
SpiceJet is making sure that all its check-in counter staff, boarding pass handlers, and the employees coming in direct contact with passengers should use sanitisers regularly. It is also focussing on providing enough personal protective kits (PPE) on its flights to prevent the spread of the virus and has directed its staff and cabin crew to wear masks and gloves before entering the aircraft.
Additionally, SpiceJet is treating its all international flights with disinfectants. “During night halts, aircraft are subjected to extensive deep cleaning,” the airline said while listing out the safety measures.
India’s largest airline, IndiGo, is following Airport Health Organization (APHO) guidelines and taking preventive measures. On March 6, the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) issued guidelines, asking aviation personnel to be examined for cold, fever, and other symptoms before being subjected to breath analyser tests.
You will be screened if you arrive from any country. Till Tuesday, travellers from Nepal, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and Singapore were being screened. Starting Wednesday, all travellers, regardless of where they come from, will be screened at airports. If you’re arriving from these countries, you will be asked for your contact details. Indian citizens who refuse to oblige will be quarantined. Foreign nationals who do not oblige will be denied entry.
If you have a cold, cough or fever and don't have a history of travel to countries that are high-risk at the moment or have not come in contact with travellers, chances are that you will not be tested immediately for coronavirus. As opposed to South Korea, which is testing as many as 12,000 people per day. India is currently following a highly restricted testing protocol.
As per the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country's apex body on biomedical research, anyone with a history of travel to high-risk countries such as China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Iran and Italy and those who have come in contact with a person who has already tested positive will get tested. This also includes all those who have been or will be evacuated from these countries or from cruise ships.
Even among those who have returned from high-risk countries, only those who have developed symptoms such as dry cough, cold and fever during home quarantine are being tested. State and district surveillance units under health departments of each state are tasked with keeping a tab on symptoms of those who are in-home quarantine or under observation. If a person develops symptoms and gets in touch with government helplines, they are to be provided with an ambulance to visit the nearest hospital designated where samples are collected and isolation wards have been prepared.
Indians arriving from China will be placed under a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Those arriving from South Korea, Iran and Italy—or with “a history of travel to these countries”—may also be quarantined.
Maharashtra Introduces Stamps
In an unprecedented move, the state government in Maharashtra - where maximum coronavirus cases have been reported in India - on Monday said it would "stamp" all those who have been sent to home quarantine amid a scare over the pandemic. The left hand of those under home quarantine will be stamped to identify them easily, said Health Minister Rajesh Tope.
The decision, taken at a meeting of top officials chaired by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, has been described as a precautionary measure after 39 cases of coronavirus or COVID-19 were detected in the state and around seven suspected patients escaped from treatment centres in last few days.
Late on Monday evening, Greater Mumbai's Municipal Commissioner Pravin Pardeshi issued an order to all officials concerned at hospitals and the airport, asking them to 'stamp' behind the left palm of those under home quarantine, dates of isolation, with ink that would last for 14 days.
"It is not a crime if somebody is infected by Covid-19. They must be given proper medical treatment and psychological support. The Epidemic Diseases Act has been invoked in the interest of the people and the district administration must create awareness on it," Mr Thackeray said.
Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that a stamp with indelible ink - applied to voters during elections - will be imprinted on the left hand indicating "that person/patient is under compulsory home quarantine" till March 31. "This will help other people identify them if they break home quarantine and mix among the public during their home isolation period," he said.
The state government has also made it a punishable offence if any person attempts to evade the compulsory quarantine, or breaks 'home quarantine' and would forcibly move such person to a government isolation facility.
These are the main restrictions and precautions, apart from colleges and schools being closed, malls, and other public places are shut down and most of the country is self-isolating.
So, if you are returning home - these are the most important protocols you should keep in mind.