In a major blow to international travellers and the aviation sector, the government on Wednesday night announced its decision to suspend all tourist visas with effect from March 13. The decision was taken in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus — so far 60 cases have been confirmed in the country. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus a pandemic owed to its worldwide spread .

The free travel facility granted to OCIs (Overseas Citizen of India) is also being suspended till April 15. The suspension, though, does not apply to those travelling to the country on diplomatic, official, UN/International organisations, employment, and project visas.

The government, however, stated that all incoming travellers shall be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days. “Indian nationals are strongly advised to avoid all non-essential travel abroad,” read a tweet put out by the ministry of health.

On a quarterly basis, over 15 million passengers fly in and out of the country, a majority of whom travel on international airlines. Air India, the country’s flag carrier, has the largest share of international passenger traffic among domestic airlines, flying 2 million passengers in and out of the country on a quarterly basis.

Outbound travel from India was already down by almost 20%, according to estimates shared by online travel company MakeMyTrip. Even air travel within the country has dropped significantly. “India’s aviation industry has been facing weak international demand over the last few months and now domestic demand has softened with the rising number of coronavirus cases in India,” read a research report by HSBC.

“Over the past few days however, week-on-week, we have seen a 15% to 20% decline in our daily bookings. Please note that the numbers could change from here based on how the situation evolves,” India’s largest airline IndiGo said in a statement. The airline cautioned that its quarterly earnings would be impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

“The Indigo stock price is down 16% and SpiceJet is down 31% in the last month. Although the broader markets are down, both airlines have underperformed the local index, by 7% and 24% respectively over the last month,” said the HSBC report.

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