Severity: Warning Alert

Entry/Exit: South Asian states maintain travel restrictions to and from countries affected by COVID-19, as of April 21. Health screenings ongoing.

The locations affected by this alert are:

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

This alert began 21 Apr 2020 09:30 GMT and is scheduled to expire 05 May 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 non-essential international travel due to the prevalent coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Countries are also advising all incoming travelers, regardless of nationality, to self-isolate for two weeks or undergo a 14-day quarantine at home or in a medical facility based on medical screening outcomes. Other measures include a ban on public gatherings, enhanced health screenings for incoming passengers, travel restrictions, and flight suspensions. These measures have expanded as in-country cases increase across the region.

As of April 21, 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. 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. All land borders with Pakistan remain closed, except for the transport of essential goods. Restrictions on international flights, imposed by Afghan authorities, remain in place as of April 21. Afghan carriers are mainly operating services from Dubai and Pakistan; however, flight availability remains limited by bans on Afghan flights by several countries. Despite the reduction in international flights due to COVID-19 concerns, authorities are not restricting domestic flights.
  • Bhutan: Ongoing restrictions on entry and re-entry for all foreigners with any form of visa, work permits, and immigration permits will continue until further notice. Those holding diplomatic, official, and international organization passports will also be denied entry; only Bhutanese citizens and residents may enter. All returnees will undergo a 21-day quarantine. Foreigners may exit. The Bhutanese government has closed all international borders, including the border with India, for passenger transit, and is severely restricting cargo transport. Authorities have increased security along informal border crossings. Officials had earlier mandated thermal scanning at all entry points; although passenger traffic at land crossings with India is limited, cross-border trade continues. Bhutanese air carriers such as Druk Air (KB) and Bhutan Airlines (B3) are operating limited international and domestic flights to repatriate stranded Bhutanese citizens.
  • Bangladesh: International flights, except services to and from China, suspended until at least April 30. Land borders with India and Myanmar closed to travelers. While on-arrival visa issuance remains suspended, additional travel bans continue for those with travel history to the EU or Iran since March 1. Foreign nationals arriving in Bangladesh are required to provide a medical certificate (with an English translation) no older than 72 hours on arrival indicating that they do not have COVID-19 symptoms. Self-isolation for 14 days is still required after arrival.
  • India: India has suspended visa issuance and canceled previously issued visas of all international travelers - except diplomatic, official, UN/international organizations, employment, and project visas - of all international travelers. Visas will remain valid until 2359 May 3 for travelers already in the country. Those planning on essential travel to India can contact Indian consulates for visa issuance after medical checks. Indian authorities have temporarily stopped passenger traffic at all air, land, river, and seaports since March 18. A ban on all domestic and international commercial flights will continue until at least 2359 May 3. Officials are also maintaining a ban on travelers from Afghanistan, the EU, the European Free Trade Association, Malaysia, Philippines, Turkey, and the UK as of April 21; authorities have barred airlines from boarding India-bound passengers from the aforementioned countries. The suspension of international cruises, passenger buses, and train services continues.
  • Maldives: Maldivian authorities have suspended on-arrival visa facilities for all foreigners, effective 0001 March 27, at all air and sea ports; visas will remain valid for travelers already in the country. Those planning on essential travel to the Maldives can contact the nearest Maldivian consulate for visa issuance after medical checks. Earlier, officials banned travelers from or transiting through Bangladesh, France's Île-de-France and Grand Est, Germany's Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, Iran, Italy, mainland China, Malaysia, Spain, the United Kingdom, as well as South Korea's North Gyeongsang and South Gyeongsang provinces. Authorities will quarantine Maldivian citizens arriving from the US at a designated facility for 14 days; those returning from other foreign countries will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. Authorities have also suspended direct flights to and from China since Jan. 30 and barred cruise ships from Maldivian waters from Feb. 28.
  • Nepal: Nepal has suspended on-arrival and electronic visa issuance for all foreign nationals and non-resident Nepalese through at least April 30. Those wishing to travel to Nepal must contact their local Nepali diplomatic mission for visa approval and submit the results of a swab test conducted within seven days before the intended travel date that demonstrates that the individual is free of COVID-19. In addition, Nepal is barring entry to those with travel or transit history to Europe, Gulf Arab countries, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea until further notice. Nepalese officials are extending a ban on all inbound and outbound international passenger flights until at least April 30, except for some charter flights repatriating stranded citizens. Closure of all land border crossings for passenger traffic with India and China remain in place; cargo transit is permitted.
  • Pakistan: Pakistani authorities have announced that all commercial passenger flights, including domestic and international services, will remain suspended indefinitely. While commercial flights are banned, emergency services from Islamabad to Gilgit-Baltistan, as well as to repatriate Pakistani nationals stranded abroad will continue. Earlier, Pakistan was barring entry to all incoming air passengers, including Pakistani nationals, if they do not produce RT-PCR test results for COVID-19 taken 24 hours before boarding. Officials had also banned flights to and from Iran and closed the Gwadar (GWD) and Turbat (TUK) airports for international air traffic. Pakistan International Airlines (PK) flights to mainland China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and Qatar remain suspended; additional disruptions are likely to disrupt air travel to other affected countries. Pakistani authorities have sealed off all border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan as of April 21 except for exchange of citizens; commercial operations - except for transport of essential goods - also remain suspended. The Attari-Wagah border with India is also closed amid the cancellation of bus and train services between India and Pakistan.
  • Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan authorities have suspended the issuance of all visa types - including electronic, landing, multiple entry, and residential - to foreigners regardless of nationality, until further notice; previously issued visas for foreign nationals, including residential permits stand temporarily suspended. Such travelers will not be allowed to enter Sri Lanka. The restrictions do not apply to holders of diplomatic, official, and service passports. Foreigners who have entered Sri Lanka on or before March 14 will receive visa extensions at least up to May 12. All inbound international passenger flights are suspended until further notice; however, cargo transport, passenger transit, and international departures will continue at the Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB). Officials had previously ordered all international services at the Jaffna International Airport (JAF) - Sri Lanka's only other functional international airport - has also halted. While domestic flights are unaffected, international passenger ships such as cruises and ferries are barred indefinitely; port operations for goods transport continue.


Additional measures may lead to entry restrictions, immigration delays, and possible quarantine for travelers from countries with significant cases of COVID-19. Increased health screenings are likely to result in increased wait times at all ports of entry. Airlines serving and operating out of impacted countries may suspend or curtail both domestic and international passenger 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 border closures. Follow all official instructions.

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.

Resources
World Health Organisation (WHO): www.who.int