India allows foreign tourists after 19 months
NEW DELHI, Oct 15: India reopened to fully vaccinated foreign tourists traveling on chartered flights on Friday in the latest easing of its coronavirus restrictions as infection numbers decline.
Foreign tourists on regular flights will be able to enter India starting Nov. 15. It is the first time India has allowed foreign tourists to enter the country since March 2020 when it imposed its first nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
It is unclear whether
arriving tourists will have to quarantine but they must be fully vaccinated and test negative for the virus within 72 hours of their flight. The decision, announced earlier this month by India's home ministry, comes as the country's daily infections have dropped below 20,000 from a peak of 400,000 in May and more people have been vaccinated.
India has administered more than 970 million vaccine doses. Nearly 70% of the eligible adult population has had at least one dose. The easing of restrictions on foreign tourists visiting the country, however, coincides with India's domestic tourist and festive season. Already, it has prompted concerns by health officials who have warned against complacency.
Earlier this month, the Indian Council of Medical Research, India's premier medical body, cautioned that "revenge tourism" could lead to a surge in COVID-19 infections if tourists don't strictly adhere to safety protocols. According to official data, less than 3 million foreign tourists visited India in 2020, which was a dip of more than 75% as compared to 2019.
However, experts and government officials continue to warn against complacency, saying that popular tourist destinations could act as Covid "super spreaders" of a third wave of infection which, they say, is inevitable. The easing of restrictions on foreign travel also coincides with the onset of India's peak travel season, sparking hopes of revival of the beleaguered tourism industry.
With its rich geography and history, India offers a large number of tourist attractions such as the Taj Mahal monument, temples and forts, the snowy mountain peaks of the Himalayas and the white sandy beaches in the west and south. According to government data, India attracted just 2.74 million foreign tourists last year - down from 10.93 million in 2019 - as the pandemic upended lives and businesses.
Tourism contributes almost 7% to India's GDP and is also responsible for millions of jobs in the hospitality sector. With the economy struggling like never before, India cannot afford to lose out on the precious foreign exchange that tourism brings.
Under the new guidelines, all tourist visas issued before 15 October will be invalid. This means that travellers coming to India will have to get fresh visas. "All due protocols and norms relating to Covid-19 as notified by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare from time to time, shall be adhered to by the foreign tourists, carriers bringing them into India and all other stakeholders at landing stations," the government said in an official release.
However, the authorities are yet to spell out the testing, vaccination, and quarantine rules for travellers. -AP