India largely reopened its borders to foreign tourism for almost 99 countries, ending a 20-month shutdown as coronavirus infections remain low across the country and vaccination rates rise.

After stopping tourist visas in March last year, India is now allowing quarantine-free entry to fully infected travelers from 99 interconnected countries. The government is required to monitor their health only for 14 days after the arrival of such tourists.

Tourists were already being admitted on chartered flights since last month and Indian authorities on Monday expanded arrivals on commercial flights.

Many Indians have already been flocking to domestic tourist hot spots in recent weeks, such as the western coastal state of Goa and the mountainous north, as a deadly second COVID wave triggered a peak infection rate of more than 400,000 cases a day. Families also gathered together this month to celebrate Diwali, the country's biggest festival, with new cases being less than 15,000 a day.

India's vaccination campaign has also gained momentum, with more than a billion vaccine doses administered, and antibody surveys show that most Indians have already been exposed to COVID.

While national infection levels have touched lower levels seen earlier in the previous year in recent weeks, there are concerns that the easing of restrictions risks a complacency when India experienced an upswing between its two major waves.

Rajni Hasija, director of tourism and marketing at Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp Ltd, said after earnings earlier this month, easing restrictions leaves the travel industry "in a very good position". However, he did add a note of caution. "The threat of a third wave is still not completely behind."
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