COVID-19 UPDATE

OCTOBER 15, 2021

Further to our update of October 11, 2021 (read it in full below), India has now re-opened for tourists and has begun issuing new tourist visas from today. Although entry regulations for foreign tourists have yet to be finalised, quarantine (self-isolation) for travellers from the UK has been revised down from 10 days, as was imposed on 4 October, to the 7 days originally imposed on 17 February 2021. A small step in the right direction, and we expect further revisions in the coming days. Scheduled flights (beyond the existing 'air bubble' routes are expected to resume in January 2022.

OCTOBER 11, 2021

Welcome back to India!

It was announced on Thursday that India is to begin granting tourist visas for foreign visitors after an 18-month pause due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Tourists arriving by scheduled flight will be able to do so from November 15, 2021 (or by chartered flight as early as October 15, 2021).

Having run our last tour back in February 2020, we are so very much looking forward to welcoming you back to India. I hope you will consider adding a tour to India to your future travel plans and look forward to helping you make these plans materialise.

 

Below is an update on the Covid-19 situation in India and an overview of the current travel requirements, to help you as you consider your options. If you have any questions, need any further clarification, or if you would like to take the first steps towards booking a tour, please get in touch with us by email (indianature@live.in), phone or WhatsApp (+91 9850 469 472).

 

Covid-19 in India, an update on cases and vaccinations:

Following a second wave of the locally identified delta variant that peaked in April-May, cases of Covid-19 have fallen drastically. Although regional variations remain, the healthcare system is no longer under significant strain and life across India is returning to near-normal.

The most recent data available at the time of writing (9 Oct) shows the number of new cases recorded across India that day as 18,166. Even if we assume that cases of Covid-19 may not be reported as diligently here as they are in western nations, this is less than half of the 39,413 reported from the UK, a country just a fraction of India’s size, and of the 37,317 reported from the USA, which has a quarter of India’s population.

As of 9 Oct, 20% of India’s population is fully vaccinated. Although this falls short of the global average of 36%, and well behind that of the USA (56%), UK (68%) and Europe (up to 85% in Portugal), 50% have received a first dose, exceeding the 48% global average.

Vaccinations are continuing at speed, with the noble intention that all eligible adults should be fully vaccinated by the end of 2021. On 17 September, more than 20 million doses were administered in one day to mark Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 71st birthday. Although this pace is not replicated daily, great efforts are being made to distribute vaccines, such as the use of drones to deliver doses more quickly to remote rural areas in India’s northeast, and to the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago.

Travelling to India – regulations and red-tape:

 

Most nations have now lifted restrictions on travel to India.

 

In the UK for example, the FCDO has lifted its advice against all but essential travel to India, meaning travellers are now able to arrange valid travel insurance to cover their journey. India has been removed from the ‘red list’ for travel in its recent update to the Covid-19 travel guidance. Fully vaccinated travellers arriving in the UK from India will need to complete a passenger locator form, and pre-book a PCR test to be taken on or before day 2 (this can be replaced by a cheaper lateral flow test from the end of October). There is no longer any need to take a pre-departure test, to quarantine or self-isolate on arrival in the UK, or to take a further PCR test on day 8.

Likewise, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also no longer advises against all non-essential travel to India. It currently has a ‘Level 2: Moderate’ risk advisory for US citizens considering travel to India. This is much more favourable than many other destinations, including almost all South and Central American countries, Canada, most of Europe and the UK, which are considered either Level 3: High or Level 4: Very High. There is a standard requirement for all US nationals travelling internationally to get a PCR test no more than 3 days before the departure of their flight back to the US, and to show a negative result or proof of recovery to airline officials.

Current guidelines for entry into India require the completion of a Self-Declaration Form online, and passengers must upload the negative report of a PCR test taken within 72 hours of the start of their journey. There are no further requirements for nationals of most countries, however those arriving from some destinations, including the UK and Europe, must take a PCR test at the airport of arrival in India (if taking a connecting flight, they will need to allow a transit time of 6 to 8 hours to receive the result). Assuming this test is negative, those coming from Europe must then self-monitor their health for 14 days. In a tit for tat move, those arriving from the UK must quarantine (self-isolate) for 10 days followed by a further test to release. This is irrespective of vaccination status.

The Covid-19 entry requirements for tourists visiting from October 15 are yet to be confirmed. A recent diplomatic spat resulted in India pressurizing the UK into recognising Covishield (the India-manufactured Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine) as an approved vaccination and relaxing its requirement for Indian travellers who are fully vaccinated with Covishield to quarantine for 10 days on arrival. It must be assumed that in the spirit of reciprocity fully vaccinated travellers arriving in India from the UK will also no longer be required to quarantine.  We will update this notice with the latest information once available.

  • If you already have a valid tourist visa or e-visa, note that current visas will remain suspended, and a new visa issued on or after 6 October 2021 will be required for entry. As part of the diplomatic row UK Nationals are not currently permitted to apply for an e-visa, but again this is something that is expected to be reviewed in the near future. It has been proposed that the first 500,000 tourist vias will be issued free of cost.

 

Commercial flights to/from India were suspended in March 2020. Since then, a limited number of scheduled flights have been operating as part of ‘air bubbles’ with some countries including the UK, USA, Canada and several European countries. India expects to fully reopen to tourism by January 2022, and it is expected that international flights will resume accordingly.

Your safety:

 

India has put measures in place to limit the spread of Covid-19, including the mandatory wearing of masks in public places and restrictions of large gatherings. These are accompanied by additional requirements in some states, such as a negative PCR test prior to entry (PCR tests are readily available from private laboratories throughout the country).

All essential services are functioning as they should. Domestic flight operations resumed in May 2020 and private service providers, including airlines, hotels and restaurants, are implementing their own set of precautionary policies too, such as restrictions on capacity.

At India Nature, we will be following our own precautionary measures to help keep you safe while travelling with us. All our guides are already vaccinated with at least one dose of a vaccine, and our aim is that all tour personnel, including our guides and drivers, will be fully vaccinated before any tour.

 

We must all share responsibility for keeping each other safe during this unprecedented situation, and we ask for your cooperation when requesting you to follow any guidelines we consider pertinent, such as mask-wearing in vehicles. We have always adhered to small group sizes, and this should encourage you to feel more comfortable on tour, however if at this time you would prefer to travel alone, as a couple, or a private group of friends do remember that private/custom tours are available anywhere in India.

Tours with availability in 2022:

 

If you are feeling encouraged to book your next tour to India, below is a selection of tours with availability in 2022. Other options are available, and the opportunities are endless if you are looking for a private/custom tour. Please look through our website (www.indianaturetours.com) for more inspiration – it is in the process of a complete overhaul, so if the links to your chosen tour aren’t working don’t hesitate to ask us for more information.

If you have any questions about any of our tours, or if you would like to book a place on any of these departures or discuss other travel plans, you can contact us easily by email at indianature@live.in, or by phone or WhatsApp (+91 9850 469 472). If you would like us to call you back, please send us your contact number by email, sms or WhatsApp message.

Don’t forget, we also offer bird tours worldwide via our UK-based bird tour company, Bluetail Birding. Visit our website (www.bluetailbirding.com) for a selection of tours to North America, which will be among the first viable options for travellers from the UK and EU, with no restrictions on entry for fully-vaccinated travellers, and not operating against travel advice. We also have limited places available on two tours to the fascinating and bird-rich Kingdom of Bhutan in late spring.

 

I hope this update has been welcome and useful. There is finally a glimmer of hope on the horizon for a return to unrestricted travel, global birding, and simply the enjoyment we all derive from getting together to enjoy the passion we share for the natural world.

 

Best wishes, Jen De Souza

References and resources:

 

UK travel info:

Coronavirus - India travel advice - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

New system for international travel - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

USA travel info:

COVID-19 in India - COVID-19 Moderate - Level 2: COVID-19 Moderate - Travel Health Notices | Travelers' Health | CDC

COVID-19 Information - U.S. Embassy & Consulates in India (usembassy.gov)

EU travel info (with links to info of individual nations):

Re-open EU (europa.eu)

This World Vaccination Tracker from the New York Times offers an uncomplicated and clear way to track vaccination rollouts around the world, updated daily:

Covid World Vaccination Tracker - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Media reports:

Indian International Tourism Reopen: India decides to reopen for foreign tourists from October 15 | Times of India Travel (indiatimes.com)

Covishield: UK recognises Covid jab after India outcry - BBC News

Covid: India imposes 10-day quarantine on UK nationals - BBC News

Covid vaccine: India drones deliver Covid jabs to remote areas - BBC News