Omicron scare: Govt to review when regular international flights can safely resume; Dec 15 reopening may get shifted

Omicron scare: Govt to review when regular international flights can safely resume; Dec 15 reopening may get shifted
© Provided by The Times of India

NEW DELHI: The Omicron Covid mutant could delay the resumption of scheduled international flights from the previously announced December 15.

“Decision on effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passengers service, to be reviewed, as per evolving global scenario,” the home ministry said in a statement on Sunday after reviewing the Covid situation with other ministries like health and civil aviation.

This meet came following the new mutant being discovered in southern Africa and some other countries.

Also, the testing protocol could now be altered if needed due to the new variant characteristics.

“The government will review standard operating procedure on testing and surveillance of incoming international passengers, especially for those countries identified ‘at risk’ category. Genomic surveillance for variants to be further strengthened and intensified. Airport Health Officials (APHOs) and Port Health Officials (PHOs) to be sensitized for strict supervision of testing protocol at airports/ ports,” the home ministry statement added.

PM Modi had on Saturday ordered review of resumption of scheduled international flights in wake of the new mutant.

Several countries have temporarily suspended flights to southern African nations.

Israel is shutting its borders to all foreign travellers.

UK has mandated RT-PCR testing for all international arrivals starting November 30.

Several Indian states, including Delhi, have started mandatory testing of arrivals from Omicron hotspots like South Africa, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong.

“Following high level review by the Prime Minister on new COVID Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’, urgent meeting was chaired by Home Secretary Sunday morning. The meeting was held with various experts, Dr V K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Dr Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to Prime Minister, & senior officers from Health, Civil Aviation and other Ministries. Overall global situation in wake of Omicron virus was comprehensively reviewed. Various preventive measures in place and to be further strengthened were discussed. Closer watch on emerging pandemic situation within the country will be maintained,” the home ministry said in a series of tweets.

India had earlier this week announced a graded resumption of regular international flights from December 15, 2021, nearly 21 months after they were suspended on March 23, 2020. International travel during the pandemic was being faciliated under the air bubble arrangement with some countries.

Earlier this week, India directed rigorous screening of all passengers coming from at risk countries including places like South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana where Omicron has so far been detected.

Airlines anticipated a slight shifting of the reopening date for scheduled flights from December 15.

“Last December when Delta mutant was first detected in the UK, India suspended flights to and from UK for some days. Later, Delta played havoc with India. People travelling between India and Africa mainly use the big Gulf carriers. Some precaution is needed to ensure Omicron does not play havoc with India like Delta did,” said airline officials.

A survey by Local Circles shows two in three citizens want the “government to reconsider its decision” about resuming international flights from December 15, 2021 due to Omicron.

India had earlier this week directed that all international travellers travelling from and transiting from at risk countries are subjected to rigorous screening and testing. The contacts of these international travellers have to be closely tracked and tested as per guidelines.

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