Severity: Warning Alert

Entry/Exit: South Asian states expand travel restrictions to and from countries affected by COVID-19, as of March 13. Health screenings ongoing.

The locations affected by this alert are:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Maldives

This alert began 13 Mar 2020 17:58 GMT and is scheduled to expire 07 Apr 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Event: Enhanced health screening, travel restrictions
  • Location(s): South Asia (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Entry restrictions, flight disruptions, longer immigration wait times, quarantine measures; possible commercial disruptions

Summary
Several nations in South Asia have advised citizens to avoid travel to countries with significant coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreaks, and have implemented enhanced health screenings for incoming passengers. Travel restrictions on impacted countries have been expanded to include additional areas. Screening measures and entry restrictions, though variable, have expanded as in-country cases increase across the region.

As of March 13, the following restrictions were in place, modified, or planned:

  • Afghanistan: Enhanced health screenings are underway at all entry points - mainly land border crossings with Iran and Pakistan. Authorities briefly enforced a travel ban and land border closures between Afghanistan and Iran Feb. 25-26; such restrictions could recur intermittently in the coming weeks. Commercial disruptions due to the closure of the Chaman border with Pakistan are likely to continue through at least March 30, as Pakistani officials will close the crossing point until at least that date. Extended school closures until April and restrictions on public gatherings are underway in Herat Province and other border areas.
  • Bhutan: Effective March 6, Bhutan has banned all incoming foreign tourists through at least March 20; non-local manpower availability may be affected in the coming days. Other elevated measures introduced include quarantine of suspected cases, as well as school closures and restrictions on public gatherings in Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha districts. Authorities had earlier mandated thermal scanning at all entry points, with health checks at land ports with India. Bhutan has advised its citizens against non-essential travel to countries with reported COVID-19 cases.
  • Bangladesh: Officials in India's Mizoram State have closed land borders with Bangladesh as of March 10; enhanced health screenings are underway at other ports of entry, mainly airports and other land crossings between Bangladesh and India. Authorities are suspending on-arrival and electronic visa issuance for travelers from Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. Similar restrictions are ongoing for travelers from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan since Feb. 3. In addition, officials are barring entry for passengers from Italy, South Korea, Japan, and Kuwait who do not have medical certificates indicating that they are not infected with COVID-19. Authorities are advising Bangladeshi citizens to avoid non-essential travel to countries affected by COVID-19, and suggesting that travelers from such countries minimize participation in public gatherings for at least the first 14 days of their stay in Bangladesh.
  • Maldives: Authorities have suspended direct flights to and from China since Jan. 30, and barred cruise ships from Maldivian waters from Feb. 28. Officials are also temporarily banning entry for all foreigners arriving from South Korea, Bangladesh, Italy, mainland China, and Iran, as an origin or transit point. Authorities may quarantine Maldivian citizens arriving from affected territories for at least 14 days. The Health Protection Agency has advised Maldivian citizens to exercise caution when traveling abroad; authorities are limiting extracurricular activities in schools and enforcing temporary movement and exit restrictions in tourist resorts with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.
  • Nepal: Nepal has temporarily suspended on-arrival visa issuance for nationals of mainland China, Germany, France, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and Japan from March 10; travelers must contact their local Nepali diplomatic mission and submit a medical certification to apply for a visa. Officials have also advised Nepali citizens against travel to the above-mentioned countries, and warned that they could be subject to quarantine upon return from them. The Kimathanka, Rasuwagadhi, and Tatopani land border crossings remain closed indefinitely. Temperature screenings are mandatory at all entry points, especially land crossings with India, though authorities' effectiveness in enforcing checks remains unclear. Foreign nationals with recent travel history to countries affected by COVID-19 may be required to submit health certification before entry via land ports. Symptomatic travelers may be subject to enhanced checks and quarantine. Himalaya Airlines (H9) suspended flight operations to and from China starting Feb. 7. The flight suspension will continue until at least March 28.
  • Pakistan: Pakistani authorities will seal off all border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan from March 16 through at least March 30. All educational institutions will remain closed as a precaution through at least April 4. Authorities have indefinitely banned all flights to and from Iran. Additionally, authorities plan to restrict all international flights to just three airports - those serving Karachi (KHI), Islamabad (ISB), and Lahore (LHE), to allow for intensified health screening measures. Pakistan International Airlines (PK) has suspended flights to mainland China and Japan until at least March 15; additional disruptions are likely to disrupt air travel to other affected countries.
  • Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan authorities will restrict travel from France, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Spain from March 15 to at least March 29. Airlines have been instructed not to board passengers from the aforementioned countries, along with those from Italy, South Korea, and Iran, on flights to Sri Lanka. Foreign nationals who have visited the specified countries within the previous 14 days are similarly banned. Sri Lankan nationals returning from affected countries are required to undergo mandatory 14-day quarantines upon repatriation. Visas for nationals from European countries will be suspended for at least two weeks beginning March 13. Sri Lanka indefinitely suspended the issuance of on-arrival visas for foreign tourists, except Maldivean and Singaporean nationals, from March 11 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Authorities had already suspended on-arrival visas for Chinese nationals beginning Feb. 3; electronic visas will continue to be issued. Travelers from other affected countries may be subject to possible quarantine in addition to enhanced screening in the coming days. Officials have also banned the disembarkation of international cruise ship passengers.


Countries could expand their response in the coming days, particularly if the number of cases in-country increases. The measures may lead to immigration delays and possible quarantine for at least 14 days, especially for passengers from countries with significant cases of COVID-19. Increased health screenings are likely to result in increased wait times at international airports and some land border crossings. Airlines serving and operating out of impacted countries may suspend or curtail services due to precautionary measures, government restrictions, or low consumer demand.

Advice
Confirm all planned international travel to the region. Allow additional time for immigration and health screenings, especially if traveling from countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Confirm entry requirements, visa validity, and travel reservations before checking out of accommodation. Plan for shipping delays due to land border closures. Follow all official instructions.

Exercise health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.