COVID-19: As worries over Omicron gather pace, India halts plans of resuming regular international flights

The decision came in light of the emergence of new variants of concern, the DGCA said, adding that the situation was being closely monitored while consulting all of the stakeholders.

India has also reported two cases of Omicron, one of which has been reported in a foreign traveller.

International travel in India: India to not resume regular international flights! At the end of November, the Centre had announced that regular international flights in India would resume in the country after 21 months on December 15. The decision was taken keeping in mind the improving vaccination coverage in the country and the reducing cases of COVID-19 elsewhere in the world. However, now that Omicron has emerged as a virus of concern, India on Wednesday decided to not resume the flights. The date for the same will be notified at a later date, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said in a notice.

The decision came in light of the emergence of new variants of concern, the DGCA said, adding that the situation was being closely monitored while consulting all of the stakeholders.

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The decision to not resume international flights was taken despite the fact that the Indian government had divided countries into different categories, travellers from some of which did not need to undergo quarantine on arrival. The Centre had also prepared a list of ‘at-risk’ countries. This included the nations that were reporting an increasing number of cases. For these countries, the Centre had already directed states to undertake stricter monitoring, and once the news of emergence of Omicron came to light, states were asked to mandatorily screen and test incoming passengers from countries where reports of Omicron have emerged.

India had decided that the resumption of flights for at-risk countries would have been undertaken in a staggered and calibrated manner. Regular flights to the at-risk countries with which India already had air bubble arrangement would have operated at 75% capacity, while those to others would have 50% capacity. However, regular flights to countries which were not listed in the at-risk list would have operated at 100% capacity.

Now, though, India has also reported two cases of Omicron, one of which has been reported in a foreign traveller. Cases of Omicron are being reported from many countries, including the UK, Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong, and Botswana among others. Many countries in Europe had already gone into lockdown and now, they have imposed stricter restrictions to stop the spread of Omicron.

It seems like the world is headed back towards the first and the second wave of the pandemic, as the countries where Omicron cases are low or have not yet emerged are banning travel to countries where the variant is quickly spreading, and the countries where it has begun spreading are imposing lockdown restrictions to contain it. The US has begun prohibiting travellers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi and Botswana, among others, and similar restrictions have also been notified by Canada, the UK and many other EU countries. Japan, on the other hand, is one of the countries which have decided to stop international travel entirely.

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