COVID-19: Visa-free travel suspended for OCI cardholders till April 15

So far, 900 Indian citizens and 48 foreigners have been evacuated from several virus-hit countries

MHA has notified that passengers will be screened before boarding a flight and only asymptomatic individuals will be allowed to travel (Photo PTI)

The Indian government on Thursday (March 12) said visa-free travel facility granted to Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders will be kept in abeyance till April 15, 2020, in view of the deadly coronavirus that has claimed thousands of lives across the world.

India has also suspended all visas, except a few categories such as diplomatic and employment, till April 15 in a bid to contain the coronavirus spread. At least 73 positive cases have been reported in India so far, of which 56 are Indians and 17 are foreigners.

“Visa-free travel facility granted to Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders are kept in abeyance till April 15, 2020. This will come into effect from 1200 GMT on March 13, 2020 at the port of departure,” said Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Union health ministry.

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He said the Indian government has so far evacuated 900 Indian citizens along with 48 foreigners belonging to Maldives, Myanmar, Bangladesh, China, US, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, South Africa, and Peru.

Agarwal said there are 52 testing facilities across the country and 56 sample collection centres. “We already have around one lakh testing kits available and additional testing kits have already been ordered,” he told a press conference.

The health ministry further said the government will send three planes to Iran over the next three days to bring back Indians stranded in the coronavirus-hit country. It said India’s efforts to deal with coronavirus is in consonance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and that the focus is on preventive approach.

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Speaking about the panic that the infection has triggered, the health ministry official said, “Mask is not always necessary. If a person maintains effective social distance, mask is not needed. There is no need to panic.”

Moreover, he said community transmission is not there in India right now. “We have only a few cases that came from outside and have primarily affected their close family members,” he added.

(With inputs from agencies)