Coronavirus | All existing visas to India stand suspended till April 15: Govt (Photo Credit: Representative image)
All existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/International Organizations, employment, project visas, will stand suspended till April 15 in view of novel coronavirus which has claimed more than 4,000 lives worldwide so far, the government on Wednesday announced, adding that this will come into effect from 1200 GMT on March 13 at the port of departure. The development comes even as the World Health Organisation said new coronavirus outbreak can now be characterised as a "pandemic".
"COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva. "We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus."
Indian nationals are strongly advised to avoid all non-essential travel abroad. On their return, they can be subjected to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. 4/n pic.twitter.com/NerELVbzcQ— PIB India (@PIB_India) March 11, 2020
"All existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/International Organizations, employment, project visas, stand suspended till 15th Apr. This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on 13th Mar 2020 at the port of departure," the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare said in a statement.
"All incoming travelers, including Indians, arriving from or having visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15th Feb, 2020 shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days," it added.
The decision was taken after a high-level group of ministers reviews the current status, and actions for prevention and management of the COVID-19.
As preventive measures, the Jammu and Kashmir administration ordered closure of primary schools and aganwadi centres and shutting down of cinema halls across the region till 31 March, while the Karnataka government issued temporary regulation which asked all government and private hospitals to have flu corners for screening of suspected cases of COVID-19.
According to the regulation, no person/institution shall use print or electronic media to spread mis-information on COVID-19 without prior permission of the Department of Health & Family Welfare.If a person is found indulging in any such activity, they will be punished, it said.
The Karnataka government also started a campaign called 'Namaste over Handshake' that encourages people to greet in the traditional Indian style, to tackle the spread of the virus.
As the cases of the infection continued to swell with over 119,400 confirmed cases reported globally so far out of which over 4,300 people have succumbed to the virus, India prohibited entry of any international cruise ship, crew or passenger with a travel history to coronavirus-hit countries post February 1, 2020 to its major ports till March 31.
To prevent the spread of the deadly virus, the Ministry of Shipping said it will allow only such international cruise ships which had intimated their call to ports by January 1, 2020.
The government said international cruise ships will be allowed only at ports having thermal screening facilities for passengers and crew members.
Among the fresh cases, eight were from Kerala and one each from Delhi and Rajasthan since Tuesday, the Union health ministry said and gave state-wise breakup which included five (Delhi), nine (Uttar Pradesh), four (Karnataka) and two in Ladakh.
While the Union ministry maintained that there are two confirmed cases of the infection in Maharashtra, the state health officials put the number to seven.
Rajasthan, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab have reported one case each, the ministry said, adding Kerala has till now reported 17 cases, including the three patients who were discharged last month following recovery.
The total number of 60 confirmed cases includes 16 Italians tourists, the ministry said.
Two employees working with IT companies Dell and Mindtree have been tested positive for coronavirus, according to company statements. However, their locations were not disclosed.
The Dell employee had returned from the US, including a visit to Texas while the Mindtree employee also had a travel history abroad, the two companies said in separate statements.
Making a statement in Rajya Sabha, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said the situation in Italy and Iran is "a cause of great concern" and the government is making all efforts to bring back Indians after appropriate testing and screening.
He said a medical team will leave for Italy tomorrow for screening Indians.
Noting that the disease has spread to about 90 countries, Jaishankar said if the government starts the process of bringing back Indians worldwide, then it will be only add to the panic.
An Air India flight carrying 83 people, including nine foreigners of Indian origin, arrived here on Wednesday from Italy and have been quarantined at the Army facility in Manesar near Delhi, officials said.
The evacuees will be monitored for two weeks by a qualified team of doctors and staff members, to watch for any signs of infection."If any individual is suspected to be infected, he/she will be shifted to an isolation facility," an official added.
Daily medical examination of all 83 people will be done at the facility, they said.
The first batch of 58 evacuees from Iran had arrived on Tuesday with 25 men, 31 women and 2 children on board and all evacuees are asymptomatic at present, the ministry said.
A two-day conference organised by the Delhi-based Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), which was to start from Thursday, has been postponed due to the coronavirus threat.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who spoke to a few COVID-19 patients admitted at Medanta and Safdarjung hospitals through video calls on Tuesday, said all those infected by the disease were stable and showing signs of recovery.
So far, India has evacuated 948 passengers from COVID-19 affected countries. Out of these, 900 are Indian citizens and 48 belonging to different nationalities including Maldives, Myanmar, Bangladesh, China, USA, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, South Africa and Peru, it said. The ministry further said that a total number of 10,57,506 passengers have been screened so far at the airport.
(Wth PTI inputs)