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COVID-19 in India: Travel Restrictions and Lockdown Measures

April 08, 2020

With increasing cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in India, travel restrictions have been expanded and a 21-day lockdown has been implemented to contain the spread of the virus within the country.

Travel Restrictions

By way of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s travel advisories issued on March 16 and 17, the government of India prohibited the entry of individuals travelling from countries including the following:

  • United Kingdom
  • Turkey
  • Malaysia
  • European Union and European Free Trade Association member countries
  • The Philippines
  • Afghanistan

Further, compulsory quarantine for 14 days has been implemented for all individuals travelling from or having visited the following designated countries, among others:

  • China
  • Republic of Korea
  • Iran
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Qatar
  • Oman

Effective Dates and Duration of Enhanced Restrictions

The travel restrictions were enhanced with effect from March 22 by an order suspending all international commercial passenger aircrafts taking off from any foreign airport for any airport in India. This restriction on commercial aircrafts has been extended from the previous end date of March 29 and will now continue until April 14. The enhanced measure effectively prohibits individuals from any country from disembarking in India.

Similar restrictions have been implemented for international passenger traffic for sea, rail, and land travel.

Impact on Visa and OCI Card Holders

In addition to the above measures and with effect from March 13, the Indian government has also suspended all visas issued to individuals who have not yet entered the country, other than those issued to diplomats, official passport holders, staff of the United Nations or other international organizations, individuals on employment or other project visas, and those operating scheduled commercial airlines.

Visas issued to foreign nationals currently in India remain valid, and such individuals can apply for a visa extension or other consular services with the relevant Indian authorities. Effective March 13, holders of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, which permit the holder to travel to India without the need for a visa, will no longer be able to travel to India visa-free. However, OCI cards issued to persons who are currently in India continue to remain valid. The suspension of visas and OCI cards will continue until April 15. Nevertheless, foreign nationals (including OCI card holders) who wish to travel to India for compelling reasons can approach the relevant Indian consulate and apply for a new visa.

The government has advised Indian nationals to avoid all non-essential travel and to refrain from travelling to designated countries such as China, Italy, Iran, France, and Spain, among others.

Federal Lockdown Measures and Related Guidance

On March 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a lockdown of the country for a period of 21 days beginning from midnight that day. The lockdown has brought all non-essential travel within and outside the country to a halt. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines setting out containment measures to be followed by all state governments.

Under the guidelines, all commercial and private establishments are required to close down or, where possible, provide for telecommuting. The guidelines carve out exceptions for certain categories of establishments and government bodies, including defence, basic utilities, hospitals, police, municipal operations, banks, supermarkets, convenience stores, print and electronic media, information technology and telecommunication services (related to essential services), entities manufacturing essential goods, and transportation services (for essential goods and specified categories of products), among others.

As a note to enforcing authorities, the guidelines specify that the containment measures effective during the lockdown period fundamentally relate to the movement of people and not of essential goods. Accordingly, if an establishment requires further clarification as to the applicability of the guidelines, the establishment can approach the relevant authorities.

Adhering to the guidelines is essential, as failure to comply may lead to legal action against the non-complaint entity and its officers, resulting in imprisonment and/or a fine.

State-Level Containment Measures

In addition to the federal guidelines discussed above, state governments have issued notifications and circulars setting out further details on the containment measures, including identifying relevant local authorities within the state.

As such, businesses should consider both federal- and state-level notifications to ensure compliance. As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in India continues to rise, both the federal and state governments are issuing notifications and guidelines almost daily to address the developing situation. We will continue to monitor developments in this area and keep our clients and readers informed.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force

For our clients, we have formed a multidisciplinary Coronavirus COVID-19 Task Force to help guide you through the broad scope of legal issues brought on by this public health challenge. We also have launched a resource page to help keep you on top of developments as they unfold. If you would like to receive a daily digest of all new updates to the page, please subscribe now to receive our COVID-19 alerts.

Contacts

If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Palo Alto
Rahul Kapoor

Dubai
Ayman Khaleq

London
Pulina Whitaker 

Singapore
Anu Liza Jose
Suet-Fern Lee