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Doors shut on many countries but not US

Officials declined to explain the criteria on which traffic had been blocked from select countries but not other coronavirus-hit countries
The area for TSA screening of travelers at JFK airport's Terminal 1 is relatively empty on Friday

Anita Joshua   |   New Delhi   |   Published 18.03.20, 10:33 PM

India on Wednesday shut its doors on all intending travellers — even Indians — from 33 countries in Europe, including the UK, as part of escalating responses to minimise the impact of the novel coronavirus.

Officials declined to explain the criteria on which passenger traffic had been blocked from select countries but not other coronavirus-hit countries, including the US.

A document the foreign ministry tabled in Parliament said: “No airline will bring any passenger from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK effective 12.00 GMT March 18 at the port of departure.”

India has also blocked any airlines from bringing passengers from the Philippines, Malaysia and Afghanistan from 3pm on March 17.

Earlier travel advisories had imposed mandatory quarantine on travellers from China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, Spain, France and Germany on or after February 15 and from Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates from March 18.

Health officials have described the travel advisories as escalating efforts to contain the coronavirus that had till Wednesday been detected in 151 people — 125 Indians and 26 foreigners — in India. Of these, 14 patients have been discharged and three have died.

All the patients so far have had a recent foreign travel history or contact with a person with such history, although the Indian Council of Medical Research is examining random samples of patients with severe acute respiratory illness without any travel history to determine whether the virus has slipped into the community.

The government, however, hasn’t explained on what basis it has blocked all passenger traffic from select countries while leaving out certain countries where the coronavirus has an even bigger footprint.

For instance, India has blocked travellers from the UK, which had till Tuesday documented 1,547 confirmed positive cases but there is no such bar on travellers from the US, which had reported 3,504 cases.

Asked by The Telegraph why certain countries have been left out of the list, Damu Ravi, a senior foreign ministry official, said: “These decisions are taken through an inter-ministerial process.”

The foreign ministry document said a few countries had reported a “very large number of cases and deaths, putting passengers from these countries particularly at high risk of the infection”.

Public health experts say they are also puzzled by the system of mandatory quarantine on travellers coming from countries such as China, South Korea or Italy that have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus while the government appears reluctant to impose even home quarantine on travellers from other countries.

“When people travel by air, they come into contact with travellers from many countries — the government should have imposed universal home quarantine on all travellers many weeks back,” a senior public health expert said.

While India had imposed universal screening of all passengers at its airports on March 11, it wasn’t until March 17 that the Indian Council of Medical Research issued a note asking all travellers from coronavirus-affected countries to stay home for 14 days.

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