Severity: Warning Alert

Entry/Exit: South Asian states expand travel restrictions to and from countries affected by COVID-19, as of March 14. Health screenings ongoing.

The locations affected by this alert are:

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

This alert began 14 Mar 2020 02:01 GMT and is scheduled to expire 30 Apr 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: 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, especially in Nepal, as of March 14. Screening measures and entry restrictions, though variable, have expanded as in-country cases increase across the region.

As of March 14, 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: Indian officials have limited land border crossings with Bangladesh as of March 14; passenger trains and buses to Bangladesh will be suspended from March 15 until further notice. Bangladesh has also suspended flights to India due to suspension of visa issuance by Indian authorities through April 15. Enhanced health screenings are underway at other ports of entry, mainly airports and other land crossings between Bangladesh and India. Authorities have suspended 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 international travel, and for returning travelers to 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 and electronic visa issuance for all foreign nationals and non-resident Nepalese through April 30; travelers with an existing visa must contact their local Nepali diplomatic mission and submit results of a swab test conducted within 7 days of intended travel date. New applicants will also have to submit medical certification at consulates. Officials have advised Nepali citizens against non-essential international travel, and warned that they could be subject to quarantine upon return. The Kimathanka, Rasuwagadhi, and Tatopani land border crossings remain closed indefinitely. Health checks are mandatory at all entry points, especially land crossings with India, though authorities' effectiveness in enforcing checks remains unclear. Foreign nationals, except Indians, will have to enter only through the Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM). All travelers will be advised to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival; symptomatic passengers may be subject to enhanced checks and mandatory 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.