India Issues New Guidelines For International Passengers: A Guide

As new variants of COVID-19 are detected in India, the government is tightening entry guidelines for passengers. Starting from 22nd February, all arrivals will have to bring proof of a negative COVID-19 test and could be tested at the airport upon arrival. Here are the new travel guideline for those flying into India.

Air India 777-300ER
India is tightening requirements as new variants are detected in the country. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

All arrivals

Starting from 23:59 IST on February 22nd, all arrivals entering India will be required to show proof of a negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours. The only exception is for those travelers flying due to a death in the family. Those approved for the exemption will be tested upon arrival in India instead.

Restrictions for those arriving from anywhere except UK, Brazil, South Africa, Europe, and the Middle East remain largely the same. Those with a negative test will need to self-quarantine at their residence for 14 days and are expected to request a test if they develop symptoms.

Effectively, this covers now only covers travelers from North America, East Asia, and Oceania.

United Airlines, Archer, Flying Taxi
Travelers from North America can continue to home quarantine for 14 days if they arrive with a negative test. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

However, the rules for those taking connecting or originating flight from the Middle East, Europe, Brazil, South Africa, and the UK have been tightened.

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New rules

For passengers taking connecting flights or flying in from Europe (except the UK) and the Middle East, here are the new rules. Upon arrival, all travelers will need to undergo a self-paid COVID-19 test at the airport. However, they can proceed to their residence after dropping off the sample and will be contacted with the result by the local health authorities.

If travelers test negative, travelers can continue their home quarantine for 14 days and request a test if they become symptomatic.

Emirates, Dubai International Airport, Contactless Check-in
A majority of inbound travelers will now need to undergo arrival COVID-19 tests before quarantining. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

For passengers who start their journey or transit through the UK, South Africa, or Brazil, they will face further testing requirements. After giving their test sample, passengers can proceed to their residence. Those with negative results can home quarantine for seven days. After seven days, passengers will undergo another test, following which they will continue to quarantine for a week.

In case either test returns as positive, it will be genetically sequenced to check for the virus variant. The sequencing will determine which quarantine protocols need to be followed by close contacts (more on that below) and the traveler.

Those taking connecting flights from India and arriving from the UK, South Africa, or Brazil will need to wait for their airport test results before boarding the next flight. Results can take 6-8 hours to come back, which means passengers should account for a 10-12 hour layover in total to stay safe.

Mumbai Airport UK Travelers Quarantine
India is trying to avoid seeing a surge in cases due to new variants of the virus that are now spreading globally. Photo: Getty Images

Close contact rule

A notable addition to the rules is the new close contact rule. Under the new rule, if any passenger flying into India tests positive, their close contacts will need to isolate. Close contacts include:

  • Every passenger in the same row as the positive case
  • Every passenger three rows ahead and behind the positive case
  • Identified cabin crew in contact with the positive case
  • All community contacts of the positive case
Air INdia delhi airport
The new close contact rule will ensure no potentially infectious passengers are not tested after arrival. Photo: Getty Images

If the positive case has arrived from South Africa, Brazil, or the UK, all close contacts will need to institutionally quarantine for seven days and get tested, following which they can home quarantine for another week (if negative).

Contacts of a positive case arriving from any other country will need to test negative on the seventh day and home quarantine for 14 days in total. The addition of cabin crew to close contacts could mean airlines have to change their scheduling at the last minute due to crew quarantines.

This means it is now possible for any passenger onboard to potentially be required to test and isolate again. The three-row rule has likely been enforced since current studies show that those within a few rows of a positive case are at the highest risk of contracting the virus.

India is one of the few countries that is enforcing a close contact rule without hotel quarantines, making contact tracing a potentially difficult task. However, considering the high risk of new variants, it wouldn’t be surprising to see mandatory quarantines soon again.

High risk

The change in testing rules comes as India fears being overwhelmed by new variants of the virus. The country has already seen hundreds of cases of the UK variant and has now detected a few cases of Brazil and South African variants in the last week.

Considering India’s cases have fallen to their lowest since June, the government is anxious to prevent another major outbreak. A second wave of cases could bring down vaccine efficacy and imperil a shaky economic recovery in the country.

Hotel Quarantine, COVID-19 Tests, Prison
Despite other governments adding hotel quarantines, India has not decided to do so for now. Photo: Getty Images

It is notable that the government is not mandating hotel quarantines for any passengers right now, despite the high risk. However, individual cities have the power to enforce mandatory quarantines (as has happened in the past) so keep an eye out if you are due to travel soon.

With new rules in place, it is highly recommended that travelers take direct flights whenever possible. If arriving from the US, Oceania, or East Asia, sticking to direct routes will ensure a lower risk of coming into contact with a positive case and will ease the arrival process in India.

The new rules will likely impact travel sharply next week, especially if many crew members need to quarantine. Expect ticket prices to skyrocket as travelers try to return before 23:59 IST on 22nd February.

What do you think about India’s new travel rules? Do they go far enough to prevent new strains? Let us know in the comments.