India began to allow fully vaccinated foreign tourists to enter the country.
Tourists entering India, starting Monday, must be fully vaccinated, follow all COVID-19 protocols and test negative for the virus within 72 hours of their flight, according to the health ministry. Many will also need to undergo a COVID-19 test upon arrival at the airport.
However, travelers from countries that have agreements with India on mutual recognition of vaccination certificates, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and many European countries, can leave the airport without undergoing a COVID-19 test.
This is the first time India has allowed foreign tourists on commercial flights to enter the country since March 2020, when it imposed one of the toughest blockades in the world in a bid to stem the pandemic. Fully vaccinated tourists on charter flights were allowed to enter starting last month.
This came after coronavirus infections had dropped significantly, with new daily cases standing at over 10,000 for more than a month.
To encourage travelers to visit India, the government planned to issue 500,000 free visas by next March. The moves were expected to boost the tourism and hospitality sector, which has been hit by the pandemic.
“The pandemic destroyed the industry, but things will return to normal as soon as foreign tourists start arriving,” said Jyoti Mayal, president of the India Travel Agents Association.
Mayal said coastal states like Kerala and Goa in the south of the country and Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in the northern Himalayas are already witnessing an increase in domestic tourists. The four states depend heavily on tourism revenues, and Mayal said foreign travelers planning their visits there would also help boost the local economy.
“Tourism is a very resilient industry and next season looks very promising. “We hope to create more jobs than we lost during the pandemic,” she said.
More than 35 million infections were reported with coronavirus. India is the second most hit country after the US. Active coronavirus cases are 134,096, the lowest in 17 months, according to the health ministry.
Nearly 79 per cent of India’s adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine while 38 per cent are fully vaccinated. The federal government has urged state administrations to conduct door-to-door campaigns to expedite the vaccine campaign.
Less than three million foreign tourists visited India in 2020, a drop of more than 75 per cent from 2019, when tourism brought in nearly $ 30 billion in profits.
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