Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: India extends COVID-19 measures through at least May 31, with regional variations in transport, business relaxations. Flight ban continues.

This alert affects India

This alert began 18 May 2020 02:52 GMT and is scheduled to expire 31 May 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Business and transport disruptions; increased security; possible clashes

Indian authorities are extending nationwide measures to combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) through at least May 31 with a significant easing of business restrictions. All retail businesses, except malls, may reopen outside of containment zones, while workplaces can operate with a maximum of 100 workers with social distancing and hygiene measures in place. Most domestic and international passenger travel, except for distressed passengers, remain suspended; cargo transport is unaffected. Restrictions typically vary by state and can change weekly. Worst affected regions, with a large number of containment zones and a slow rate of normalization, include Delhi and major cities in Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu states.

Nationwide movement, gathering, and business restrictions will remain in place through at least May 31; wearing of face coverings in public is mandatory. Domestic and international commercial flights will remain banned, except for the repatriation of stranded passengers. All train, metro, and bus services remain suspended; exceptions are only available for special services to transport stranded passengers to their home states; such people are required to quarantine for at least 14 days at home or in a state facility upon arrival. All interstate passenger travel is banned unless prior permission is obtained online from authorities in both origin and destination states; similar online permission forms are also necessary for interdistrict travel within a state. Transport restrictions do not apply to cargo shipments. The ban on all public gatherings and the closure of educational institutions, tourist sites, places of worship, entertainment sites, and public spaces remain in place nationwide. Movement control orders are in place 1900-0700 daily, except for essential and emergency needs. High-risk groups, such as essential workers, as well as those commencing daily transit to work, living in containment zones, or undertaking permitted inter-district or interstate travel, must register on the national Aarogya Setu mobile application for contact tracing purposes.

Authorities have introduced a multi-tiered health threat rating system nationwide to rank administrative sub-units such as a ward, block, or district, based on its COVID-19 activity. While nationwide restrictions will apply to all regions, the new system will almost certainly result in localized variations in specific measures and directives. The definitions of the different tiers are:

  • Containment Zones: There is no relaxation of restrictions in areas within 1 km (0.6 miles) of a reported COVID-19 cluster with four or more cases; local administrations may extend the zone beyond 1 km based on risk factors. Residents must stay indoors except for emergency purposes. Business operations, private and public transport, and entry or exit are banned. Officials typically deliver essential supplies to homes; door-to-door health screening is likely.
  • Red Zones: Authorities ease few restrictions due to a high proportion of COVID-19 cases. Public transport remains suspended; the capacity limit for private vehicles is one for two-wheeled vehicles and three for four-wheeled vehicles. Autorickshaws and taxis are prohibited. In addition to essential and emergency services, industrial and business operations, including e-commerce of essential goods, are allowed, as long as social distancing measures are in place. Standalone retail shops, food carry-out, and delivery services, as well as liquor shops, are also open, though grooming services remain banned. Private and public offices can resume functioning with one-third of staff capacity. Most major cities across India fall under the red designation and are unlikely to see significant easing of restrictions in the short term; significantly affected regions include Delhi and the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
  • Orange Zones: These areas have had no new COVID-19 cases for 14 days, which see further relaxation of restrictions as compared to red districts. Grooming services, as well as autorickshaw and taxi services, are available. Limited inter-district movement, such as bus services with lowered capacity, may be allowed with special permission.
  • Green Zones: These are areas with zero cases or no new COVID-19 cases for 21 days where most restrictions are eased, with inter- and intradistrict public buses functioning at half capacity.

State administration and police will continue to enforce and facilitate control measures. Emergency and utility services remain operational nationwide. While banks and businesses selling essential goods, such as fuel, food, and medicines, remain open, officials will almost certainly regulate price, supply, and opening hours. Panic-buying and associated localized shortages of essential goods may occur in some areas, especially due to the increased demand related to Ramadan observance through May 24. Sporadic clashes are possible if groups attempt to enforce business closures or defy official orders. Police may forcibly disperse unruly crowds. Violators may face legal action.

Officials have been allowing some foreign citizens, residents, and long-term visa holders stranded in India to buy seats on Air India (AI) repatriation flights leaving India through June 3. The flights depart India primarily to bring home Indian nationals who had been stranded abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These flights serve several countries, including the UK, US, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, as well as multiple Central Asian nations. Foreigners looking to board repatriation flights need to confirm their entry eligibility with the embassy of the intended destination country, and book their tickets through the websites of AI or its subsidiary, Air India Express (IX).

Travel Restrictions

Most international travel remains effectively banned. All domestic and international commercial passenger flights, with some exceptions for repatriation of Indian nationals and foreign nationals stranded in India, remain suspended through at least May 31. Authorities are advising Indian citizens to delay all nonessential international travel. Indian officials are maintaining a ban on travelers from Afghanistan, the EU, the European Free Trade Association, Malaysia, Philippines, Turkey, and the UK; authorities have barred airlines from boarding India-bound passengers from the countries above. All incoming travelers, including Indian nationals, arriving from or having visited mainland China, France, Germany, Italy, Iran, South Korea, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and Spain on or after Feb. 15 are required to undergo a 14-day quarantine at home or in a medical facility; authorities advise all other travelers to self-isolate for two weeks. Travelers that have visited Italy and South Korea also need to provide a certificate of having tested negative for COVID-19 from an authorized facility. Authorities have suspended visa issuance and canceled previously issued visas for all international travelers, except for holders of diplomatic, official, UN/international organizations, employment, and project visas. Foreign nationals already in the country will receive a visa extension upon online application.

Additional measures could be introduced in the coming days, especially if the number of in-country cases increases.

Background and Analysis
The measures adopted by the Indian government are similar to actions taken by other regional governments in recent days in response to the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Follow all official instructions; minimize outdoor activity to the extent possible. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm business appointments, deliveries, work, and travel arrangements. Do not check out of accommodation without confirming onward travel. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Ensure access to essential items, plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers. Carry proper identification documents, heed all security advisories.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.

Back to the COVID-19 Risk Intelligence & Resource Center