New Delhi: India has reopened its borders to mass foreign tourism, ending a 20-month clampdown as coronavirus infections across the country remain low and vaccination rates rise. After halting tourist visas in March last year, India is now allowing quarantine-free entry to fully inoculated travellers from 99 reciprocating countries.
The government only requires such tourists to monitor their health for 14 days after arrival. Since last month tourists on chartered flights were already being granted entry and Indian authorities expanded that to arrivals on commercial flights on Monday.
Many Indians have already been flocking to domestic tourist hot spots in recent weeks, such as the western coastal state of Goa and the mountainous north, as a deadly second COVID-19 wave faded out after triggering peak infection rates of more than 400,000 cases a day in early May. Families also gathered together this month to celebrate Diwali, the country’s largest festival, with new cases staying well below 15,000 a day.
Vaccines hot their mark
India’s immunization campaign has also gathered pace, with more than a billion vaccine doses administered, and antibody surveys suggest that most Indians have already been exposed to COVID-19. While national infection levels have in recent weeks touched lows last seen earlier in the year, there are concerns that the easing of curbs risks a complacency similar to when India experienced an ebb between its two major waves.
The lowering of restrictions places the travel industry “in a very good position,” Rajni Hasija, Director of tourism and marketing at the Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corp ltd, said on a post-earnings call earlier this month. However, she added a note of caution. “The risk of the third wave is still not completely behind.”