India quarantined! As Covid-19 wreaks havoc, these countries impose travel curbs
India reported a whopping 3,46,786 new daily cases on April 24. This was the third consecutive day that India set a dubious global record of daily new Covid-19 cases
The Covid-19 wave is soon turning into a tsunami in India, and more and more countries of the world are rushing to ban flyers from India.
India reported a whopping 3,46,786 new daily cases on April 24. This was the third consecutive day that India set a dubious global record of daily new Covid cases, registering over three lakh cases for three consecutive days. This took India's total Covid-19 tally (active, discharged/cured/migrated and fatal) to 1,66,10,481. On April 23, the daily new coronavirus cases in India accounted for nearly 40% of the new cases in the entire world, according to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Active cases increased by 1,24,324 in 24 hours and deaths by 2,624, according to India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) on April 24. Maharashtra continued to report the highest number of daily cases with 66,836, while on the brighter side, active cases in the state fell by 7,982 -- also the highest in the country.
Nine other states apart from Maharashtra together made up 74% of the daily surge in cases. These states are Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh. Kerala recorded the highest daily rise in active cases with 22,757. Maharashtra saw the highest number of deaths at 773.
India's problems were compounded by an acute shortage of oxygen, hospital beds and even testing kits, and the situation is fast becoming worse than last year when the pandemic broke out. Indeed the virus seems to be spreading much faster in India than it did during the first wave.
Here is a list of countries that have put restrictions on air links with India:
As India reported 314,835 new Covid-19 cases -- the highest daily spike in cases globally since the pandemic began -- and also reported its highest Covid-related deaths at 2,104 on April 22, Canada announced a ban on all flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days.
Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that half the people testing positive for the coronavirus after landing in Canada arrived from India, according to a Live Mint report. Over one million people living in Canada are of Indian descent and flights from India account for one-fifth of Canada's air traffic. Hajdu also said that there was a disproportionately high number of Covid-positive flyers coming from Pakistan.
"It makes sense to pause travel from that region while our scientists and researchers better understand the variants of interest," Hajdu said.
In the wake of this action by the Regulatory Authority of Canada, India's national carrier Air India had to cancel all flights to Canada till May 21. "In view of the restrictions announced by Regulatory Authority of Canada, flights to Vancouver and Toronto are cancelled: for Vancouver -- April 25 to May 2, Toronto April 24 to May 22," Air India tweeted. The airline added that the passengers would be notified about waivers and refunds soon.
The UAE announced a ban on flyers from India for 10 days from April 25. Accordingly, there would be no travel from India to the UAE till May 5, though flights from Dubai to India would not be affected.
There would be a ban also on passengers who have transited from India in the past 14 days. Private jets, however, have been allowed to fly into the UAE from India.
The ban would not extend to UAE citizens, diplomatic passport holders, official delegations and 'golden residency' visa-holders, though they have to undertake preventive measures like a 10-day quarantine and RT-PCR tests at the airport.
Furthermore, after April 24, people would be barred from booking flights from the UAE to India on the websites of Emirates, Etihad, FlyDubai and Air Arabia. The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) had banned Air India Express last year for carrying Covid-positive passengers.
The Indian expatriates numbering approximately 3.42 million constitute the largest ethnic community in the UAE, comprising about 30% of the country's population, according to the Indian embassy in the UAE.
Update: As India struggles to cope up with a devastating Covid storm, the UAE indefinitely extended its ban on flyers from India. Cargo flights, however, would continue between the two countries.
The UAE's General Authority of Civil Aviation and National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority announced the decision on May 4 under which passengers on all flights on national and foreign carriers from India, and also transit passengers coming from India would be prevented to enter the UAE, according to a Gulf News report. Travellers who were in India 14 days prior to their arrival in the UAE would also continue to be denied entry.
The UAE had earlier announced a ban on flyers from India for 10 days from April 25. Later, the authorities had announced that the suspension would stay in place till May 14.
Furthermore, Covid test requirements prior to the journey have been made stricter, and now, the tests have to be done within 48 hours, instead of 72 hours, before travel. Also, all tests must be conducted by accredited laboratories that issue results carrying a QR code.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation clarified that those flying to the UAE from India through other countries must furnish proof of spending at least 14 days in a country other than India. The aviation regulator advised all passengers to contact the relevant airlines to reschedule their flights.
Foreign airlines would operate inbound air bubble flights, but outbound flights would not ferry passengers, The Hindu reported. These departure flights would carry cargo instead and 30 to 35 tonnes of cargo are being lifted in bigger aircraft.
India has been added to the UK's travel red list, which means that anyone who is not a resident of the UK or Ireland or a British citizen cannot enter the UK if he had been in India in the previous 10 days, UK Health Minister Matt Hancock explained. He added that the decision to add India to the red list was "difficult but vital". Those people who are allowed entry to the UK from India would, however, have to undergo self-paid quarantine at government-approved hotels for 10 days, BBC reported.
A further 55 cases of the coronavirus variant, known as B.1.617, first identified in India, were detected in the UK in the latest week to April 14, Public Health England (PHE) said on April 22. PHE experts are unsure if any of the mutations mean that the 'Indian' variant can be transmitted more easily, is deadlier, or can defeat vaccines or natural immunity.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had cancelled his official visit to India slated for April 26 in the wake of the Covid-19 storm in India, said that the variant is under investigation and has not yet been deemed as a variant of concern. He added that the restriction on flyers from India was a "purely precautionary" measure.
The London-Heathrow airport refused to allow extra flights from India before the country was added to the UK's travel red list. Four carriers had requested to operate an additional eight flights from India as desperate passengers sought to fly into the UK before the rule change came into effect. Heathrow authorities took the decision because of their concerns over queues at passport control and also did not want to worsen the existing pressures at the border by allowing more passengers to fly in, BBC reported.
The London-Heathrow airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Citizen59
Scheduled arrivals from Delhi and Mumbai to Heathrow and from Delhi to the Gatwick Airport were cancelled on April 22, according to BBC. The UK's Civil Aviation Authority said that requests to allow charter flight permits from India to the UK were declined or withdrawn as they did not meet the qualifying criteria, as the UK looks to avoid importing "dangerous" variants of the coronavirus that could put the country's vaccine rollout at risk.
At the time of the introduction of these new restrictions, 30 flights were operating every week between India and the UK. India (and indeed many other countries of the world) had itself temporarily banned India-UK flights in December last year after the discovery of a new and more infectious strain of the coronavirus in the UK. The Delhi government had introduced tough quarantine measures involving mandatory institutional quarantine for even asymptomatic passengers on flights to the Delhi airport from the UK. India continues to be wary of passengers having UK travel links.
Currently, the UK destinations for flights from India are restricted to England and Scotland. There are no flights from India to Wales or Northern Ireland at present.
In view of the restrictions imposed by the UK, Air India cancelled all flights to and from the UK between April 24 and April 30. The airline added that during this period, it was in the process of scheduling once-a-week flights to the UK from Delhi and Mumbai.
There are 40 countries, including those in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America in the UK travel red list, and countries can be added to this list at just a few hours' notice, BBC reported.
4. Hong Kong
Hong Kong suspended flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines for two weeks from April 20 after the detection of the N501Y mutant coronavirus strain in the Asian financial hub for the first time.
India and the other countries that attracted the restrictions are considered as "extremely high risk" by Hong Kong after multiple imported cases of the N501Y strain were reported in Hong Kong in the past 14 days, according to a Reuters report on April 19.
On April 18, the city reported 30 new cases, out of which 29 were imported. India doesn't have air bubble agreements with Hong Kong at present and many flights between these two countries were operated as a part of the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) to repatriate stranded Indians.
However, now that Hong Kong has suspended flights connecting it with India till May 3, according to a News18 report, the VBM is bound to be hit. Hong Kong's decision came after 50 passengers in two Vistara flights were found to be Covid-positive on arrival.
It is mandatory for all passengers coming to Hong Kong to carry a negative report from an RT-PCR test done 72 hours prior to the journey. Hong Kong had banned Air India five times and Vistara once last year for carrying Covid-positive passengers.
The city-state announced on April 22 that long-term pass-holders and short-term visitors with a history of travel to India in the past 14 days would be denied entry from April 24, The Hindustan Times reported. This includes passengers transiting through India and those who had obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.
Air India and Singapore Airlines planes at the Singapore Changi airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/David
The tightening of restrictions for travellers from India was effected mainly to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Singapore's crowded worker dormitories, amid fears over the double mutant strain of the coronavirus. These restrictions are expected to affect Singapore's construction and marine sectors, which employ a large number of people from India and other South Asian countries.
Singapore's health ministry had said earlier that travellers from India must quarantine themselves at home for an additional seven days after the mandatory 14-day stay at dedicated facilities.
The US had issued a travel advisory against India. The US had put India on its highest risk 'Level-4' travel advisory list in view of the worsening Covid-19 situation in India, The Economic Times reported.
"Travellers should avoid all travel to India. Because of the current situation in India, even fully-vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants and should avoid all travel to India. If you must travel to India, get fully vaccinated before travel. All travellers should wear a mask, stay 6 feet from others, avoid crowds, and wash their hand,” the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on its website.
An Air India aircraft at the JFK Airport in New York, US. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Alan Wilson
The US continues to be the country worst-affected by Covid-19, with 3,15,93,420 cases as of April 24. India is second on the Covid-19 list with 1,66,10,481 cases.
The US government has told its citizens in India to "leave as soon as it is safe to do so", and use available commercial options, Bloomberg reported on April 29. The US Department of State has said that currently there are 14 direct daily flights between India and the US and other services that connect through Europe.
7. New Zealand
New Zealand was among the first countries to impose a temporary ban on travellers from India, including its citizens, from April 11-28. The move followed after 17 out of the 23 new cases of Covid-19 were traced to India.
The Australian government decided to cut the number of flights from India by 30% after witnessing a spike in the number of Covid-positive flyers coming into the country, the Hindustan Times reported. Passengers from high-risk countries like India would have to test Covid-negative at least 72 hours before boarding a flight to Australia.
According to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the reduction in flights from India would apply to both government-organised repatriation flights and commercial flights, and that the change would take effect "in the months ahead".
Authorities in Australia's Northern Territory said that there would be changes to repatriation flights from India to Howard Springs. All repatriation flights not yet booked but planned for Northern Territory for May would now be deferred to June, ABC News reported citing Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner. He added that passengers returning from India on these flights and all flights thereafter would have to have isolated themselves for two weeks prior to departure.
This decision came as the Howard Springs quarantine facility was dealing with the highest number of Covid-19 cases since it began handling repatriation flights, with most of the cases coming from India.
Australia announced on April 27 a temporary ban on direct passenger flights from India. Morrison said the ban would be in place at least till May 15 owing to "clearly present" risks of travel from Covid-battered India. This has put thousands of Australians, including star cricketers participating in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL), in trouble, who would now be stranded in India.
On April 21, Oman barred the entry of passengers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with effect from April 24. Oman's Supreme Committee announced that the ban would also cover travellers who had transited through these three countries in the past 14 days.
10. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has decided to continue with the ban on flights from 20 countries, including India, even after May 17, when it plans to resume international flights, according to a Khaleej Times report.
The Kingdom had earlier banned flights from Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UAE, UK and US. This also covers passengers from other countries who have transited through any of the 20 countries in the banned list during 14 days preceding the request to enter the Kingdom.
Kuwait suspended all direct commercial flights from India with effect from April 24, PTI reported. Kuwait's aviation regulator announced on Twitter that all passengers arriving from India either directly or through another country would be denied entry unless they have spent at least 14 days out of India.
However, Kuwaiti citizens, their first-degree relatives and their domestic workers have been exempted from this ban. Freight flights are to continue.
Kuwait is home to over one million people of Indian origin and Indians are the largest expatriate community in Kuwait, according to the Indian embassy in Kuwait.
Pakistan had classified India as a 'Category C' nation amid the massive Covid-19 surge in India. On April 19, Pakistan banned all travellers from India for two weeks.
"The forum decided to place India on the list of Category C countries for two weeks. There will be a ban on inbound passengers coming from India via air and land route," stated Pakistan's National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC).
Israel issued a travel advisory on April 22 asking its citizens, including those who have recovered from Covid-19 or have been vaccinated, to refrain from travelling to India, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and Turkey considering the high Covid-19 morbidity rates in these countries.
France has barred flights from India, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and South Africa, according to a report in Business Today. Earlier, there were reports that France was mulling a 10-day quarantine for travellers from India.
Indonesia has decided not to issue visas to any foreigners who had been in India in the past 14 days. Indonesians coming from India would be allowed to enter, but they would have to follow more stringent Covid protocols and quarantine rules.
This move came after a chartered flight from Chennai, India arrived in Indonesia carrying 12 Covid-positive passengers out of a total of 129 passengers, Business Today reported citing Indonesia's Health Minister Budi Gunadi.
Iran's civil aviation agency has banned all flights to and from India and Pakistan, AP reported citing Iran's state-run IRNA news agency. The decision is to take effect from midnight on April 24.
"The Indian coronavirus is a new threat we face. The Indian virus is more dangerous than the English and Brazilian variants," Iran President Hassan Rouhani said.
Flights to and from 41 countries are already banned in Iran, and those who want to fly to other countries listed as 'high-risk' have to have a Covid test done in Iran, according to Mohammad Hassan Zibakhsh, spokesman for Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation. Passengers over the age of eight years have to submit negative RT-PCR reports from tests done within 96 hours of departure and undergo tests on arrival.
Seychelles announced on April 22 that only vaccinated Indian visitors who have completed two weeks after their second dose are allowed to enter the archipelago. However, all visitors, irrespective of vaccination status, would have to present a negative PCR report from a test done within 72 hours prior to departure.
Passengers travelling from India to Bahrain would have to carry negative RT-PCR results from tests done within 48 hours of departure with effect from April 27. The tests have to be done at laboratories approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and must have readable QR codes.
Passengers, including those previously vaccinated or infected, travelling to Qatar have to present negative Covid-19 PCR test reports at the Indian departure airport with effect from April 25. The test results should be validated and certified results from ICMR-approved laboratories and must be done at least 72 hours prior to scheduled arrival in Qatar.
Germany, which has an air bubble agreement with India, has called off nearly all travel links. Only German nationals and those with German resident permit travelling from India would be allowed to enter Germany. Even they would have to produce a negative Covid report before departure and undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. While this rule also applies to passengers travelling to Schengen destinations through Germany, transit to non-Schengen destinations is allowed for all nationalities, according to Conde Nast Traveller. Germany has advised that travelling to India must be "significantly restricted".
"The newly discovered virus mutation in India worries us very much. In order not to jeopardise our vaccination campaign, travel to India must be significantly restricted. Therefore, the federal government will shortly declare India a virus variant area. From Sunday night, only Germans from India are allowed to enter, they must also be tested before departure and immediately after entry into a 14-day quarantine,” Jens Spahn, German Health Minister, tweeted (translated).
The Health Protection Agency of Maldives has restricted travel for Indian tourists to 'inhabited' local islands from April 27, according to Conde Nast Traveller. However, travel to standalone islands with no local population is expected to be unaffected, and even secluded areas of 'inhabited' islands are not out of bounds for Indian travellers. Tourists arriving in the Maldives from India (including those exceeding transit stays of 24 hours) must have completed the prescribed dose of the Covid vaccine and must clear an RT-PCR test before entry. The sample for this RT-PCR test must have been taken not more than 96 hours prior to the scheduled time of departure from the first port of embarkation en route to the Maldives. These travellers have to undergo another RT-PCR test within a maximum of 72 hours prior to their departure from the Maldives.
Air travel from India to Bangladesh has been suspended since April 14, according to a report in Conde Nast Traveller.
Only Italian nationals would be allowed entry into Italy from India, according to Conde Nast Traveller. These passengers, however, have to clear a Covid test before departure and go into quarantine upon arrival. No foreign nationals who have been in India in the past 14 days would be allowed to enter Italy.
24. Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has barred flyers from India to disembark in Sri Lanka, though it has said that it would review the decision as early as possible according to the instructions of the local health authorities.
Sri Lanka had earlier indefinitely postponed the air bubble agreement with India that was slated to come into effect on April 26. “We are just postponing the bubble, this is not a cancellation. When things get better in India, we look forward to launching the travel bubble,” an official at the Ministry told The Hindu.
The travel ban now would dent India's Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) repatriation initiatives that India was undertaking from Sri Lanka along with other places in the world.
Sri Lanka depends heavily on foreign tourists, especially Indians, who contributed as much as 18% to the tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka in January last year, just before the pandemic broke out. Sri Lanka is also a favourite pocket-friendly destination for Indians.
Therefore, a lengthy ban on travel is not in the interest of either country, though the Covid-19 situation that is going from bad to worse in India seems to upset all calculations.
China's state-run Sichuan Airlines suspended cargo flights to India for 15 days to "reduce the number of imported cases (of Covid-19)" in view of the "sudden changes in the epidemic situation (in India)".
The Sichuan Chuanhang Logistics Company Limited, which is part of Sichuan Airlines, said in a letter to sales agents that the company would review the situation after 15 days. The move has severely disrupted private traders in both countries to arrange quick supplies of oxygen concentrators to rush to India.
Visas for Indians have been suspended by China since November last year and flights continue to be banned. Diplomats, however, are allowed on flights to China.
Japan declared a state of emergency in capital Tokyo and the prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo in a bid to control rising Covid-19 cases just three months ahead of the Olympics that was already postponed last year.
The Japanese government is increasingly vigilant against the double mutant variant of the coronavirus that is wreaking havoc in India, the Japan Times reported.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on April 22 that the country had already witnessed five cases of infection with the 'double variant' strain of the coronavirus that had been confirmed in India and is believed to be highly infectious and which could even weaken the effectiveness of vaccines.
Like his UK counterpart Boris Johnson, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had called off his planned visit to India considering the terrible Covid-19 situation in India.
India had imposed a ban on scheduled commercial international flights on March 22 last year, which still continues. India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had extended this ban till April 30, 2021.
However, some international air travel is being conducted to and from India as part of the VBM repatriation exercise and in the form of air bubble flights, both of which would be severely impacted by several countries avoiding flights from India.
India currently has air bubble agreements with 27 countries, namely Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Canada, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, UAE, UK, US and Uzbekistan. Under these bilateral agreements, carriers of India and those of the partner country enjoy equal and reciprocal rights to conduct air operations between the countries.
Dubai, Maldives and Seychelles are currently allowing passengers from India with a tourist visa. However, the majority of the countries are still only allowing stranded Indian citizens, Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders and diplomats.
With so many countries banning flights from India, there was a mad rush for tickets to fly out before the restrictions kicked in. Consequently, airfares for the US and UK more than trebled, The Times of India reported on April 23.
(This is a developing story and has been updated with new information.)
(Cover image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Aero Icarus)