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Safety & Love: Reunite Loved Ones in India (#LoveIsNotTourism #LoveIsEssential)

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In March 2020, India took an important decision to suspend international travel in order to contain the spread of COVID-19. Subsequently, India initiated the Vande Bharat Mission to bring home stranded Indians and their families from other countries. However, some of our lives have been negatively impacted because of short-sighted international travel and visa rules during the ongoing COVID crisis.

We are urging the Ministry of External Affairs of India, as well as the Government of India to acknowledge and recognise that there are transnational couples like us who are not married but are in serious, committed, long-term relationships. We need to be reunited. Because we are not considered to be 'families', we have consequently been separated by borders for months now. Some of us are engaged to be married, have led lives together, and also share financial commitments. Tourism is absolutely not an essential reason to travel, but we are NOT tourists. We want to be with our partners in India or want our partners from abroad to rejoin us in India. We want to be able to take important life decisions in order to close the distance between us (e.g., get married). We also want to see our extended families and be with them.

It is undeniable, the psychological and emotional strain that separation from loved ones causes over a long period of time. The strain is greater when the separation seems to be indefinite with no clarity regarding the resumption of international travel. We are ready to take all the necessary precautions such as, taking COVID-19 tests, going into quarantine, practising physical distancing, wearing masks among others, to ensure not only our safety but those of others around us. It is important to re-examine how 'families' are understood and take a more progressive and inclusive approach to reuniting loved ones. Coronavirus is not going to leave us anytime soon but we can adapt in effective and meaningful ways. We would like visas to be granted to individuals who would like to be reunited with their partners and loved ones in India, in a safe and compassionate manner. 

A Brief Insight into the (In-)Effectiveness of International Travel Restrictions:

On 29 February 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) came out with recommendations for international traffic pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. In their recommendations, the WHO highlights the point that, "evidence shows that restricting movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions." But they also say that restriction of people's movements can be 'temporarily' useful. So, how useful are these 'temporary' travel restrictions?

Limited, but recent peer-reviewed research shows that travel restrictions will only have modest effects. Public health interventions or transmission reduction interventions will prove to have greater benefits (Chinazzi et al. 2020). In another recent peer-reviewed study, Wells and colleagues (2020) were able to demonstrate that travel restrictions cannot fully stop the spread of COVID-19 but can decrease its rate when restrictions are implemented in the 'early stages' of the pandemic. Early detection, contact tracing and voluntary quarantine are the most effective ways to limit the spread of COVID-19 (Wells et al. 2020).

In their article on 'Controlling COVID-19: The Folly of International Travel Restrictions', Weijun Yu and Jessica Keralis (6 April 2020; Health and Human Rights Journal), identify that citizenship-based travel restrictions or bans on the entry of foreign nationals gain popularity with the general public but go against public health knowledge and expertise, as well as violate human rights. Yu & Keralis (2020) cite recent research studies which prove that while travel restrictions did slow down the spread of COVID-19, the delay was achieved by only a matter of few days or may be weeks. The authors are also very clear when they say that travel restrictions violate international law when there is historical evidence as well as recent to show that travel restrictions are counterproductive. Public health response and interventions that are evidence-based are far more beneficial for all people irrespective of their nationality and/or race. 

In fact, in another article by Amina Zafar (13 March 2020; CBC News), caution is drawn regarding travel bans and restrictions. Restrictions don't actually work because people may find other ways to travel which would put them at greater risk than when they are able to travel through official pathways where monitoring and contact tracing is done in a much safer manner. Zafar (2020) quotes public health experts in saying that the key to combating against the COVID-19 is "social distancing interventions" and not "mass quarantine or travel bans".  

What can the MEA, India and Indian Embassies do to reunite loved ones in India?

The MEA can create consular related visa pathways for non-Indians who want to reunite with their partners and loved ones in India. A few European countries (e.g., Austria, Denmark and Norway) have started facilitating the reunification of non-EU/EEA individuals with their partners and loved ones in the respective countries. Denmark has come up with a process which the MEA, India can also put in place. Some of these important processes to help reunite loved ones in India through a case-by-case manner can be:

1. Taking COVID-19 precautions: 
- Testing 72 hours prior to departure
- Undergoing (self-paid) 14-day quarantine on arrival in India
- Undergoing a quick (self-paid) test on arrival at the airport
- Undergoing (self-paid) tests during the quarantine period

2. Documents to prove relationship:
- Proof of relationship through relationship certificates (issued officially in foreign countries) and/or photographs and/or correspondence
- Submitting legal affidavits and/or self-attested declarations explaining the nature of the relationship. 

You can access cited articles and research here:

1. Chinazzi et al. (2020). The effect of travel restriction on the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Science, 368, pp. 395-400. Retrieved from:

2. Wells et al. (2020). Impact of international travel and border control measures on the global spread of the novel 2019 coronavirus outbreak. PNAS, 117(13), pp. 7504-7509. Retrieved from:

3. WHO (2020). Updated WHO recommendations for international traffic in relation to COVID-19 outbreak. Retrieved from:

4. Yu and Keralis (2020). Controlling COVID-19: The Folly of International Travel Restrictions. Health and Human Rights Journal. Retrieved from:

5. Zafar (2020; CBC News). 'Viruses don't carry passports': Why travel bans won't work to stop spread of COVID-19. Retrieved from:

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