• India has banned most travel visas until Apr. 15
  • India has closed borders with Myanmar
  • India's overloaded medical system may not be able to cope with virus outbreak

The Indian government has suspended most categories of travel visas for a one-month period, effective Friday, in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“All existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/International organizations, employment, project visas, stand suspended [until Apr. 15],” India’s Health Ministry said in a statement. “Any foreign national who intends to travel to India for [a] compelling reason may contact the nearest Indian Mission.”

The ban will be reviewed after the first month expires.

Visa-free travel that had been permitted to Indian citizens living overseas has also been suspended until Apr. 15.

Incoming travelers, including Indian citizens, who arrive from or have visited virus-stricken China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, France, Spain, and Germany after Feb. 15 will be quarantined for at least 14 days.

“Indian nationals are strongly advised to avoid all non-essential travel abroad. On their return, they can be subjected to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days,” the health ministry added.

On Tuesday India suspended the issuance of visas to citizens of France, Spain and Germany until further notice. Such restrictions had already been imposed on citizens of virus-stricken China, Italy, Iran, Japan and South Korea.

These new measures are expected to hurt tourism and the hotel and aviation industries as India already deals with a slowing economy.

India's top low-cost domestic airline, IndiGo, has already warned that its quarterly earnings will be materially impacted due to effects of the virus.

National airline Air India said on Wednesday it will suspend flights to Italy and South Korea until Mar. 28 and Mar. 25, respectively.

On Tuesday, the chief minister of the northeastern state of Manipur said India has closed its border with Myanmar.

“As a precautionary measure [to prevent] transmission of coronavirus/COVID-19, the international border with Myanmar has been closed ... until further orders,” tweeted N. Biren Singh.

As of Thursday, India’s Health Ministry said it has 73 confirmed cases of the virus, although that number is expected to rapidly grow.

The southern state of Kerala, which has India’s most virus cases with 17, said on Tuesday it will close schools and movie theaters to prevent a further outbreak.

Some have expressed fears that India’s overstretched medical system will not be able to treat and prevent an outbreak.

"It would be near impossible for India to force its citizens into mass quarantine and hospitalize people in numbers like China," said Soutik Biswas of BBC.

But R.R. Gangakhedkar from the Indian Council of Medical Research, a government agency, said he was confident India could manage an outbreak.

"The [National Institute of Virology] can undertake more than 2,000 tests per day. But we have only tested 6,000 cases in the past one month or so. So we already have the capacity," he said. "Our surveillance system is strong and we are able to quickly identify any symptomatic patients. Coronaviruses are difficult to isolate. But our first step to isolate has been successful.”

But India’s spending on health care is among the lowest in the world -- only 3.7% of gross domestic product, meaning many hospitals are overcrowded while private facilities are too expensive for most people. (In the U.S. the health care spending figure is about 18% of GDP).