India has suspended most visas including visa-free travel facility extended to Indian-origin foreigners in a bid to contain the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.
The visa restrictive policy would come into effect from March 13 to April 15 at the port of departure, Hindustan Times reported.
All visas except those issued to diplomatic, official, international organisations, employment and project visas were being suspended, said the government announcement on March 11 evening.
The group of ministers tasked to oversee the government's response also ordered suspending visa-free travel facility granted to Overseas Citizens of India card holders till April 15 2020. This means that only travellers who board aircrafts to India before 1200 hours GMT may be allowed to enter the country.
The Health Ministry, which was given special powers under the country's Disaster Management Act to take requisite steps to control the spread of coronavirus, has also advised all incoming travellers including Indians to avoid non-essential travel and cautioned that they can be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days on their arrival in India.
India's decision to severely curtail people from travelling to the country comes against the backdrop of the National Institute of Virology, the lead agency for testing for coronavirus, or Covid-19 infection, confirming that 60 people had already been confirmed to have tested positive. The number is expected to continue to increase over the next few days.
Wednesday's travel restrictions coincided with the World Health Organisation declaring the coronavirus infection, or Covid-19, as a pandemic.
"In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of COVID19 cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher. We have, therefore, made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic," WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva.
If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace, and mobilize people in the response, those with a handful of COVID-19 cases can prevent those cases becoming clusters, and those clusters becoming community transmission, Ghebreyesus said.
In India, the central government has also told states to invoke the British-era Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 to enforce all advisories. The 1897 Act gives the states power to take special measures and issue orders to inspect people travelling in public transport and take steps to segregate people suspected to have contracted the infection in hospitals or other temporary accommodation.