While the Centre has already imposed international travel bans to contain the spread of the coronavirus, several states within India are also beginning to close their borders.
In the North East, some states have enforced a blanket ban on the entry of tourists, while others are closing down popular tourist spots. Manipur has gone one step ahead: the state has issued orders barring the entry of everyone who is not a regular resident of the state. However, there has been no reported case of infection in the region so far.
The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, meanwhile, has banned the entry of foreign tourists. While Jammu has three reported cases of coronavirus, the region is also next door to Ladakh, where at least eight cases have been diagnosed so far. As of March 18, labourers from other states were forbidden to enter Ladakh till March 31.
Many of these places are “protected areas”, which already require special government permits for entry.
Arunachal and Nagaland use the Inner Line Permit
In several states in the North East, for instance, those who are not local residents need a special travel document known as the Inner Line Permit to enter. It is a protective regime to keep small local populations shielded from the onslaught of large-scale migration.
Currently, the Inner Line applies to Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
From March 16, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland temporarily suspended issuing these permits to people who declared their purpose of travel as tourism.
However, Nagaland’s chief secretary Temjen Toy said that permits were still being issued to people travelling to the state for work. “We have our own mechanism to screen such people,” he said. “Our people stay in touch with them for the entire period of their stay and even after they leave till the incubation period of the virus is over.”
While scientific data on the novel coronavirus is still rudimentary, its average incubation period seems to be around five days.
Government officials said Arunachal Pradesh was employing a somewhat similar approach. While the state has ordered a blanket ban on issuing new permits, it has left the provision to renew long-term permits open. “The one-year permits that outsiders working in Arunachal Pradesh require continue to be updated by the political department,” said a government spokesperson.
The state restricted the entry of foreigners in the state on March 7 itself.
On March 17, Manipur, which recently came under the Inner Line regime, issued an order suspending the issuing of any new permit till April 15 unless a visit to the state is “unavoidable”.
“This is for everyone, not just tourists,” clarified an official in the chief minister’s office.
Sikkim sets up a task force
Sikkim, which is not protected by the Inner Line Permit, also restricted the entry of tourists, both foreign and domestic, in the state starting March 16. Officials said a state level task force comprising officials from the departments of health, civil aviation, tourism and police had been set up to enforce the ban. “Right now, this ban extends to tourists and floating labourers,” said Kareti Srinivasulu, who heads the state’s health and family welfare department.
Another official said that on Tuesday, the task force had “returned back” several people trying to enter the state at the borders. “You will not be allowed to enter the state if you cannot establish your credentials,” said a Press Information Bureau officer from Gangtok. “You will have to sign a self declaration form stating your purpose of visit and your recent travel history.”
Meghalaya shuts tourist spots
Meghalaya, another state in the region which sees a heavy footfall of tourists and is not served by the Inner Line Permit, has shut down all tourist spots in the state till the end of the month.
State officials, however, said that the state was not yet restricting the entry of tourists. “Hotels have been asked to collect a person’s travel history before renting a room,” said an official in the chief minister’s office. “These details have to be shared with the government on a regular basis.”
On March 18, the Meghalaya government issued an order asking hotels to report all foreigners staying in their premises to the local administration.
Jammu and Kashmir bars foreign tourists
Up north, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has banned the entry of foreign tourists. The orders to do so come from “higher authorities”, said Nisar Ahmad Wani, director for tourism, Kashmir.
To enforce the ban, the government has put up checkpoints at Lower Munda in South Kashmir, the entry point to the Valley after the Banihal tunnel, which connects it to Jammu. Foreign tourists flying into the Valley were being stopped at the airport. “Today morning, a foreigner lady was sent back from Srinagar airport,” said Wani. The ban, Wani added, was being enforced by security officials and Airports Authority with assistance from tourism officials.
Foreigners are also being screened at railway stations across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. On March 18, the Directorate of Information and Public Relations tweeted that the annual Mata Vaishno Devi Yatra to Katra, in Jammu, was suspended.
Meanwhile, the Jammu Traffic Department has also suspended inter-state bus services across the Union Territory.
Srinagar development commissioner Shahid Choudhary also tweeted to say a Leh to Srinagar Air India flight was turned back on Wednesday. While 81 people on the flight have been quarantined in Srinagar, 25 passengers who did not agree to quarantine were sent back to Leh, an airport official said.
Ladakh keeps out labourers
On March 18, Zakir Hussain, Ladakh’s divisional commissioner, issued a notification saying labourers had started pouring into the Union Territory with the “advent of working season”. Further entry of such workers was banned till March 31, the order said, because “due to precautions being taken at the community level and protocols of social distancing, it is anticipated that incoming labourers will be subject to inconvenience”.
Since roads to the high-altitude region are closed till later in the year, the only port of entry to Ladakh at the moment is the Leh airport.