Tightening the lockdown to check the spread of novel coronavirus cases (Covid-19), the government Monday imposed fresh travel restrictions, prohibiting the entry of all passengers from “the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and United Kingdom” and extending compulsory quarantine for passengers from Qatar, the UAE, Oman and Kuwait too.
As the number of Covid-positive cases touched 114 (including 13 who have recovered and two deaths), with four new cases being confirmed — one each from Odisha, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh and Kerala — the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also issued a detailed advisory on measures to enforce social distancing, including closure of all educational institutions.
The Railway Ministry has empowered its zonal units to suspend trains with low occupancy and on not-so-important routes.
In its latest travel advisory, the government said: “Expanding compulsory quarantine for a minimum period of 14 days for passengers coming from/ transiting through UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait. This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 18th March 2020 at the port of first departure.”
Until now, quarantine was mandatory only for passengers from China, Italy, Iran, Korea, France, Spain and Germany.
“Travel of passengers from 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. 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 said.
Both these instructions are temporary measures and shall be in force until March 31, and will be reviewed subsequently, said officials.
Proposing social distancing measures till March 31, the Health ministry advised closure of all educational institutions, gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres, postponing of examinations, encouraging private sector organisations/employers to allow employees to work from home wherever feasible, meetings through video conference and physical distancing of minimum one metre.
While some states have already implemented some of these measures, more states followed on Monday.
“Social distancing is a non-pharmaceutical infection prevention and control intervention implemented to avoid/decrease contact between those who are infected with a disease causing pathogen and those who are not, so as to stop or slow down the rate and extent of disease transmission in a community. This eventually leads to decrease in spread, morbidity and mortality due to the disease,” it said.
The ministry said online education should be promoted, and asked local authorities to prevent mass gatherings. The number of testing laboratories has been increased to 62.
Meanwhile, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, Lav Agarwal denied reports about missing patients in Punjab.
The government had earlier suspended all visas, barring select categories, till April 15. The new travel advisory effectively means that even Indians who are currently in these countries may find it difficult to return home.
Indian carriers flying to these countries are expected to cancel their flights, as they will have to return empty. Industry officials are of the view that home carriers of these countries may continue to operate flights on their India sectors in order to ferry their citizens back.
Last year, almost 3 million passengers arrived in India from Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and Turkey, according to official data.
Major airlines from these countries, including British Airways, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and Turkish Airlines among others, operate over 170 flights per week to various airports in India.
Air India, on the other hand, operates over 70 flights per week to European airports such as London, Copenhagen, Paris, Frankfurt, Stockholm, etc. In addition, IndiGo operates two flights daily to Istanbul.
But over the last two weeks, many airlines had curtailed their operations to and from these countries due to weak passenger demand.
Meanwhile, the fourth batch of 53 Indians was airlifted from Iran, and is being quarantined at the Army facility in Jaisalmer. All are reported to be asymptomatic at present and have been quarantined as per protocol.
— With inputs from Avishek G Dastidar
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