India said on Thursday that the country will reopen to foreign tourists from next week after a gap of 18 months as coronavirus cases decline in the South Asian nation.
The country suspended all tourist visas and banned international visitors after the outbreak forced a nationwide lockdown in March 2020 that brought the entire country to a grinding halt.
The Ministry of Home Affairs said tourist visas for visitors arriving on chartered flights would be issued from October 15, and to travellers on regular commercial flights from November 15.
“After considering various inputs, the MHA has decided to begin granting fresh tourist visas for foreigners coming to India through chartered flights with effect from October 15, 2021,” the ministry said.
It said the tourists would have to follow all local coronavirus protocols, which could include mandatory wearing of face masks, RT-PCR tests and vaccinations.
About 11 million foreign tourists visited India in 2019, according to government figures, earning the country $30 billion in revenue.
All international tourist arrivals were halted over fears of the pandemic but the country continued to allow visitors with diplomatic and business visas to enter.
The success of India’s 10-week lockdown in preventing large-scale infections last year led many people to relax their guard before a deadly second wave hit the country between March and May this year. Tens of millions of people were infected and more than 250,000 died.
But daily new infections have significantly dropped in recent weeks, with 22,500 on Thursday, down from a peak of 415,000 in May.
The world's fifth-largest economy has been recovering gradually from the effects of the pandemic. Domestic travel has picked up in recent months but the tourism sector has been demanding a lifting of the ban on foreign tourists as other countries have opened up to travellers.