India suspends visas for one month as virus count hits 60 | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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India suspends visas for one month as virus count hits 60

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySanchita Sharma & Rhythma Kaul
Mar 12, 2020 12:28 AM IST

The suspension, while virtually shutting the country off to foreign tourists, will not apply to visas issued for diplomatic (including UN organisations), official and employment purposes.

Almost all visas for entering India have been suspended till April 15, the Union government said on Wednesday as it announced extraordinary new measures to stave off the coronavirus disease Covid-19 pandemic, including invoking laws that give the federal administration powers over states to manage containment efforts.

The move came even as 10 new infections in India were confirmed on Wednesday.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)
The move came even as 10 new infections in India were confirmed on Wednesday.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

The suspension, while virtually shutting the country off to foreign tourists, will not apply to visas issued for diplomatic (including UN organisations), official and employment purposes. But the government issued a wide advisory for anyone planning to enter the country – even Indian citizens abroad — to defer travel unless necessary and warned that they may be subjected to mandatory quarantines.

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The move came even as 10 new infections in India were confirmed on Wednesday, taking the total number of cases to 60 with at least a dozen more suspected patients in initial testing.

“India had to take a tough decision to discourage non-essential travel to stop the Covid-19 cases from being imported into the country. It may inconvenience travellers and I’m sorry for that, but the health of India’s 135 crore citizens comes first. Intensified screening, quarantine and isolation can still stop the spread of Sars-Cov-2 in the country,” Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan told HT shortly after the announcement.

In its revised travel advisory, the government also said that visa-free travel privileges for people with OCI (Overseas citizen of India) cards will also be suspended and that anyone arriving from seven countries – China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany – “shall be quarantined”.

People who need to come to India “for compelling reason” may be allowed visas on a special basis, the advisory added, asking such travellers to reach out to the nearest Indian mission.

“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,” the advisory said.

The 60 confirmed patients are spread over 10 states and union territories, and at least 30,000 more people who may have come in contact with them are under surveillance.

The disease has raced around the world, sickening over 121,000 people and killing close 4,400 in the less than three months since it began spreading from central China in late December. Infections have been reported in 110 countries, a situation the World Health Organization said on Wednesday amounted to a pandemic. The Union home ministry separately issued statements announcing that it was invoking section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and delegating disaster management authority to the health ministry by using section 69 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

The epidemic diseases act gives state and central governments the power to segregate, test and isolate any individual suspected of a disease. It also gives them powers to prosecute anyone not following directions.

By using the disaster management act, the ministry delegated its authority to tackle any disaster across the country to the health ministry in the context of Covid-19 outbreak.

“With this delegation of power, orders issued by the ministry of health therefore become enforceable for all states to follow. Otherwise, health is a state subject,” a government official said, asking not to be named.

Experts said such sweeping measures are being seen as necessary.

“There are two aspects of an epidemic – one when it is being imported and one when it circulates in the community. Currently, there is no community transmission of Covid-19 in India, so the measures for containment that might seem draconian are necessary. The disease is not as serious as SARS but the speed at which spreads is high and it poses risk to the elderly and people with concomitant conditions like heart diseases, diabetes, or any kind of malnutrition. And, owing to India’s large population, we have a sizeable number of people who will be at risk,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India.

Of the 10 new cases confirmed on Wednesday, eight were from Kerala, and one each from Delhi and Rajasthan.

Local officials from Lucknow, Mumbai and Nagpur said there were at least several more who have tested positive in initial examination. These will need to be confirmed by the National Institute of Virology, Pune. Like it did for Iran, India will be sending a team of doctors to Italy by Thursday for testing its nationals there for Covid-19 and to bring them back, an earlier government release on Wednesday said.

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