NEW DELHI/CHANDIGARH, India
India on Thursday announced it will start easing international travel restrictions, despite the country’s daily coronavirus case count still being well over 50,000.
As part of a “graded relaxation” plan, the government said borders will be opened to “more categories of foreign nationals and Indian nationals who wish to enter or leave India.”
The decision came on a day when 55,839 more infections and 702 deaths took India’s overall tally past 7.7 million, including 116,616 fatalities.
The world’s second worst-hit country, however, has seen a steady decline in daily cases over recent days, and a government panel declared a few days earlier that India likely crossed its transmission peak last month.
“It has been decided to permit all OCI [Overseas Citizenship of India) and PIO [Persons of Indian Origin) cardholders and all other foreign nationals intending to visit India for any purpose, except on a Tourist Visa, to enter by air or water routes through authorized airports and seaport immigration check posts,” read a statement by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
It said that all existing visas – except electronic, tourist, and medical visas – will be restored with immediate effect.
India suspended all tourist and student visas, as well as the visa-free entry of PIO cardholders, on March 13.
Foreign nationals can now come to India for various purposes, including business, conferences, employment, studies, research, and medical treatment, it concluded.
Polls amid pandemic
Around 70 million people in the eastern state of Bihar are preparing to cast their votes in local elections starting next week.
The three-phased polls, set for Oct. 28, Nov. 3, and Nov. 7, are the first large-scale electoral activity in India since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
With over 200,000 infections in Bihar so far, fears are running high that the elections could further exacerbate the state’s COVID-19 situation.
Under safety guidelines issued by electoral authorities, all polling stations must have a thermal scanner, while COVID-19 patients who are in quarantine will be allowed to vote in the last hour of polling.
Earlier, the election commission said more than 52,000 senior citizens and people with disabilities will vote through postal ballots in the first phase.
The elections are a test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which is currently ruling Bihar in alliance with the Janata Dal (United) party.
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