Video Editor: Varun Sharma
In a bid to contain the spread of novel coronavirus, India on Wednesday, 11 March, suspended all visas except a few categories such as diplomatic, official, UN/International Organisations and employment till 15 April, according to an official statement.
Moreover, the government also “strongly advised” Indians to avoid all non-essential travel abroad. Air India has announced temporary suspension of its flight services to Rome, Milan and Seoul. Besides, India has prohibited till 31 March entry of international cruise ships, crew or passengers with travel history to coronavirus-hit nations.
Group of Ministers (GoM) on Wednesday also deliberated on preventive measures, actions taken and preparedness for coronavirus and took a slew of decisions, putting in place some travel restrictions to India.
Under this, all existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/International Organisations, employment, project visas, stand suspended till 15 April.
This measure will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 13 March, at the port of departure.
Meanwhile, visa free travel facility granted to OCI card holders has also been suspended till the same date. Visas of all foreigners already in India remain valid.
14-Day Quarantine For Incoming Travellers From Coronavirus-Hit Countries
Any foreign national who intends to travel to India for compelling reasons may contact the nearest Indian Mission, the release said, adding that all incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15 February will be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days.
The government advised the incoming travellers, including Indian nationals, to avoid non-essential travel and told them that they can be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days on their arrival in India.
The advisory, however, doesn't specify if the quarantine is home-quarantine or at a government-designated location. The government might make it clear today on 12 March.
According to the statement released after the meeting, international traffic through land borders will be restricted to designated check posts with robust screening facilities, which will be notified separately by the home ministry.
Additionally, provisions for testing primarily for students/compassionate cases in Italy will be made. Those who test negative will be allowed to travel and will be quarantined on arrival in India for 14 days.
Health secretary Preeti Sudan said that universal screening is also being done for travellers from 12 countries for all the flights from China, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal, Indonesia, Iran and Italy at the earmarked aero-bridges.
‘A Global Pandemic,’ Says WHO
With over 4,000 deaths due to the infection worldwide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday declared COVID-19 a “pandemic.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who heads the UN agency, said the WHO is “deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity” of the outbreak. He also expressed concern about “the alarming levels of inaction”.
“We have, therefore, made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic,” he said at a briefing in Geneva.
“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people in the response,” Tedros said.
In India, the total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in stands at 67, with fresh cases reported in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Kerala and Karnataka.
Call for Invoking Epidemic Act, Disaster Management Act
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is urging all States and Union Territories to invoke provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 so all advisories issued by the Union health ministry and state governments from time to time are enforceable.
The decision was made public after a meeting held by the cabinet secretary and headed by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in Delhi. It was also attended by secretaries of departments concerned, including Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, representatives from Army, ITBP among others.
The Epidemic Act is meant “to provide for the better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases.”
A presentation on the status of COVID-19 in India, action taken for prevention and preparedness to tackle the disease was also shown in the meeting.
Citing the importance of awareness, health secretary Preeti Sudan apprised the GoM that the states/UTs are advised to do rigorous IEC (Information, Education and Communication) and make people aware about the precautions, symptoms and helpline numbers.
Meanwhile, powers executed by the Union home secretary under the disaster management act have been "delegated" to his health ministry counterpart to enhance preparedness against the coronavirus outbreak, a government order said on Wednesday.
The Union home ministry order said the powers are exercised by the Union home secretary under section 10 of the Act and he being the Chairman of the National Executive Committee (NEC).
In Maharashtra, the Thane administration on Wednesday invoked the 'Disaster Management Act' to effectively deal with any situation. Till now, 11 positive cases of the viral infection have come to light. Of these, eight have been reported from Pune, two from Mumbai and one from Nagpur.
In Pune, the Disaster Management Act, 2005 was invoked on 10 March, with the district administration advising all travellers returning from abroad to isolate themselves at home irrespective of any symptoms for at least 14 days.
In addition to visa restrictions already in place, people travelling from or having visited Italy and South Korea will now also have to submit certificate of having tested negative for COVID-19 from laboratories authorised by the health authorities of their countries.
(With inputs from PTI)