By KJM Varma
Direct passenger flight services between India and China are unlikely to resume in the near future unless Beijing modifies its policy of sudden cancellation of scheduled flights every time some passengers are tested positive for COVID on arrival in Chinese airports, informed sources here said.
Flight services between the two countries have been disrupted ever since coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan in late 2019 and spread across the world.
The flight disruption turned out to be a major problem for hundreds of Indian students as well as families of Indians working in China and businessmen to travel back and forth though Beijing recently lifted the visa ban after about three years.
Following this, about 23,000 Indian students, mostly studying medicine who were stranded back home due to China’s COVID visa bans, made preparations to travel to China to rejoin their colleges but experienced difficulties due to the absence of direct flights.
The flights through the third countries were exorbitantly expensive in view of the demand.
However, over 100 Indian students reportedly returned to China in recent weeks travelling through the third country routes, especially via Hong Kong.
Informed sources here said, in view of the unlikelihood of the resumption of flights, Indians are advised to travel through Hong Kong which has daily connectivity from India. From there they can take a flight to Chinese cities, where they have to undergo a seven-day quarantine.
Indian passengers are currently travelling to China through Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar.
China is not expected to change its Zero COVID policy even after the 20th Congress of the ruling Communist Party beginning here on October 16.
In recent months, China mostly cancelled flights to almost all countries in 2020, started allowing limited flight services from some countries, including, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the South Asian region.
But these flights are subject to the clause that they will be cancelled for a designated period if any passenger in the incoming flight tests positive on arrival at the Chinese airports.
India and China are in talks for several months to resume the limited flight services, but the negotiations made little headway due to Beijing’s insistence on flight cancellations rule related to COVID passengers, the sources said.
The airlines find it hard to comply with the rule as they are not the ones that conduct the COVID-19 tests which are mandatory for all passengers travelling to China, the sources said.
The COVID tests are conducted at designated centres by the Chinese Embassy in India and also the “green code” to travel by flight is given by the Chinese mission without which passengers cannot board the flight, they said.
In the entire process, the airline has no role but it has to bear the brunt of cancellations for several days if some passengers are tested positive on arrival, the sources said.
In view of this, direct flights between India and China are unlikely to resume unless Beijing scraps the rule as the talks were bogged down on this issue, they said.