South Asian states enhance health screenings and widen travel restrictions to and from countries affected by COVID-19, as of March 6.

Severity: Warning Alert

The locations affected by this alert are:

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

This alert began 06 Mar 2020 09:30 GMT and is scheduled to expire 09 Mar 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: Enhanced health screenings, 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 countries in South Asia have advised citizens to avoid travel to mainland China and implemented enhanced health screenings for passengers from China and other regions affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Screening measures, though variable, have expanded as in-country cases increase across the region, especially in Bhutan, which reported its first case March 6.

As of March 6, the following restrictions are 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; similar restrictions could recur intermittently in the coming weeks. 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. Other elevated measures introduced include quarantine of suspect 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: Authorities are suspending on-arrival and electronic visa issuance for travelers from Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea. Similar restrictions are ongoing for passengers from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan since Feb. 3. Affected travelers must obtain visas from consulates after medical certification. Enhanced health screenings are underway at airports and land ports, especially Benapole land crossing between Bangladesh and India. Officials are advising Bangladeshi citizens to avoid non-essential travel to countries affected by COVID-19, and travelers from such countries 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. Starting Feb. 3, officials temporarily banned all foreigners entering the country from mainland China, Iran, as well as Cheongdo and Daegu of South Korea as an origin or transit point. Authorities may quarantine Maldivian citizens arriving from these territories for at least 14 days. The Health Protection Agency has advised Maldivian citizens to exercise caution when traveling to Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand; schools are limiting extracurricular activities.
  • Nepal: Nepal will temporarily suspend on-arrival visa issuance for nationals of mainland China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan effective March 10; travelers must approach consulates with medical certification for visa application. Officials have also advised Nepalese citizens against travel to the mentioned countries, as well as possible 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 the 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 possible quarantine. Himalaya Air suspended flight operations to and from China, starting Feb. 7. The flight disruptions will continue until at least March 28.
  • Pakistan: Authorities have indefinitely banned all flights to and from Iran. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has also suspended flights to mainland China and Japan, until at least March 15; additional disruptions could affect air connectivity to other affected countries. Officials are maintaining enhanced screening and land border closures with Afghanistan and Iran, school closures across the Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Sindh regions, as well as a precautionary state of emergency in border districts of Balochistan Province.
  • Sri Lanka: Authorities have suspended on-arrival visas for all Chinese nationals since Feb. 3; electronic visas will continue to be issued. As of March 3, passengers with recent travel history to mainland China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea will undergo enhanced screening and will be monitored by local health officials for at least 14 days; symptomatic travelers may face quarantine measures. Passengers from other affected countries may undergo the same 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 are unlikely to impact most travelers but may lead to immigration delays and possible quarantine of at least 14 days, especially for passengers from China. 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
Follow all official instructions. Allow additional time for immigration and health screenings, especially if traveling from China. 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.

Exercise basic 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.

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