As the CoronaVirus outbreak continues to spread, governments around the world continue to evaluate their response. Air travel has taken a beating given the contagious nature of the virus, and hence, demand is down, way down. India, as a measure of response, had already closed out their borders to all visaholders/OCI not in India as of a specific date. Essentially, visa-free access to OCI holders was cut off, and visas are suspended at the moment, so India would not be able to accept any passenger who is travelling to India at the moment, who does not have an Indian passport.
Now, an updated travel advisory has been issued by India on March 16, 2020. The advisory reads as follows:
In continuation of the travel advisory issued on 11th March 2020, the following additional advisory is issued:
(i) Expanding compulsory quarantine for a minimum period of 14 days for passengers coming from/transiting through UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait. This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 18th March 2020 at the port of first departure.
(ii) Travel of passengers from member countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and United Kingdom to India is prohibited with effect from 18th March 2020. No airline shall board a passenger from these nations to India with effect from 1200 GMT on 18th March 2020. The airline shall enforce this at the port of initial departure.
(iii) Both these instructions are temporary measures and shall be in force till 31st March 2020 and will be reviewed subsequently.
Quarantine for those using the Middle Eastern Carriers to arrive in India
Point 1 of the advisory is clear. If you fly into India via UAE (Emirates/Etihad/FlyDubai/Air Arabia/Air India/IndiGo/Air India Express/SpiceJet/Vistara), Qatar (Qatar Airways/IndiGo/Air India), Kuwait or Oman, you will be subject to a compulsory quarantine for 14 days in India. Since foreigners are not allowed in India and Kuwait Airport is already shut to commercial aviation, for now, this would be largely focussed on Indians coming back to the country via UAE and Qatar carriers. If you get on a flight before 1200 GMT on March 18, 2020, you can escape this quarantine, although you should still self-quarantine for 14 days at the minimum.
Passengers (including Indian passengers) transiting on European Carriers will not be accepted into India
Foreign arrivals and OCIs arriving into India are already closed, so this is focussed on Indians travelling back from Europe or via European carriers. India has decided that these passengers, even if they are Indian passengers, will not be allowed to get back to India, if they are not already on a plane by 1200 GMT on March 18, 2020.
There is a vast network of airlines already closing down their long-haul networks, but this just means that the residual traffic will also be closed down. You will no longer be able to use the likes of British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Air India, Finnair, Turkish Airlines and others to travel to India altogether since you will not be allowed to board your flight at the initial point of departure. This might also mean if as an Indian residing in the UK, let’s say on a student visa, you are flying via Qatar or UAE, you won’t be accepted in India anymore.
Effectively, this means that since Indians as well as foreigners won’t be allowed to travel onwards to India unless airlines are operating flights to fly back those who are in India to the UK, Germany or wherever else they want to fly. So airlines will operate empty aircraft one way if they fly to India.
If you are in the USA and an Indian, you could still take the non-stop Air India or United Airlines flights after this date and come back to the country. If you are in Europe and you make it to, let’s say, Australia, and fly back to India, you would still be taken in.
Both these measures will be valid through March 31, 2020, but subject to further review.
What can I say, if you are still outside the country, get back on a plane soon? Else, plan for a long haul in the other country!