India blocks out Europe, Turkey
New Delhi India said on Monday it will temporarily bar the entry of travellers from Turkey and 32 countries in Europe, including Spain, Italy and France, from March 18 as part of measures to ensure zero movement from regions at high risk of Coronavirus infections.
A fresh travel advisory issued by the health ministry also said passengers coming from or transiting through Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine. The advisory said both measures will remain in force till March 31 and be reviewed subsequently.
“Travel of passengers from the member countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and United Kingdom to India is prohibited with effect from 18th March 2020,” the advisory said.
“No airline shall board a passenger from these nations to India with effect from 1200 GMT on 18th March 2020. The airline shall enforce this at the port of initial departure,” it added.
The 27 members of the EU include Italy, Spain and France, which have so far recorded more than 31,000 COVID-19 infections and nearly 1,700 deaths. The European Free Trade Association includes Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
People familiar with developments said the travel restrictions for European countries were aimed at preventing the return of Indian nationals. Authorities have called on Indians to remain where they are as part of measures to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t spread.
Indians are currently being evacuated only from the worst-affected countries such as Italy and Iran, where there is no option but to return, and only after they test negative for the Coronavirus, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.
“We are not advising evacuation. On the contrary, we are telling people to remain where they are because that is probably the safest course of action,” said a person. The people also noted that those wishing to come back from Europe had a window till March 18, when the new advisory takes effect.
Every day at least, at least 10 to 15 flights travel between Europe and India and approximately around 8,000 to 12,000 passengers travel between these countries.
Soon after the health ministry’s advisory, the aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), issued a circular directing airlines to strictly implement the order.
DGCA chief Arun Kumar said: “All scheduled Indian and foreign airlines engaged in international air transportation to/from India, therefore, are directed to scrupulously follow the advisory and not carry any passenger in violation thereof.”
The health ministry’s advisory also said the 14-day mandatory quarantine for passengers coming from the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait “will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 18th March 2020 at the port of first departure”.
Earlier, passengers arriving from only seven countries – China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, France, Spain and Germany – had to undergo quarantine from March 13 onwards.
The new order came a day after HT reported that in order to avoid quarantine, a number of passengers travelling from these seven countries were allegedly taking detours and hiding details of the countries they had travelled from.
Some 15 to 20 such passengers, caught hiding their travel details at Delhi airport on March 13, were sent to quarantine facilities. Two of them had come from Spain, while five travelled from Frankfurt in Germany.
“Because it was noticed that a majority of passengers who tried to hide their travel details had arrived via the UAE, Oman, Qatar or Kuwait, these countries were brought under mandatory quarantine so that no person suspected of being exposed to Coronavirus escapes the quarantine,” said an immigration officer who didn’t wish to be named.
Passengers who have to undergo mandatory quarantine have been divided by the Airport Health Organization (APHO) into categories on the basis of severity of their symptoms.
Category A comprises high-risk passengers requiring mandatory segregation and isolation who are directly sent to hospitals, and those in category B pose a moderate risk and need to be shifted to dedicated state government quarantine facilities.
Those in category C are a low risk and have to be kept in home quarantine while being monitored.
Last week, arrangements were made at Delhi airport to completely isolate passengers from China, including Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Iran, Italy, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Nepal and Indonesia. Their baggage belts, immigration counters, customs clearance areas and pick and drop points outside the international arrival terminal were segregated from those for other passengers.