Reviewing decision to resume international flights, SOPs on testing: Centre

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Reviewing decision to resume international flights, SOPs on testing: Centre
© Provided by Hindustan Times Currently, Indians are flying to and from India under air bubble arrangements that allow passengers of two countries to fly with some restrictions. (HT PHOTO.)

The Centre on Sunday said it will review its decision to resume scheduled commercial international flights as well as the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) on testing and surveillance of incoming international passengers, especially for those countries identified as ‘at risk’ category.

The decisions were taken following a high-level review meeting chaired by Union home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla over the new Covid-19 variant of concern ‘Omicron’.

On November 26, after a gap of 20 months, the ministry of civil aviation issued an order saying that it will allow scheduled international flights from December 15 to and from all countries considered “not at risk” with effect from December 15, 2021. The ministry said that passengers from countries in “at risk” category would require to follow additional measures following their arrival in India, including testing for the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

Currently, Indians are flying to and from India under air bubble arrangements that allow passengers of two countries to fly with some restrictions. The countries kept in ‘at risk’ category are – the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.

People familiar with the development said on Sunday the rising concern over the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, has prompted the government to review the decision. Cases of the new variant have now been reported from Botswana, Hong Kong, South Africa, the UK, Australia, Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands etc. The new variant is believed to be more transmissible and immune-evasive. It was on Friday designated as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) said the overall global situation in the wake of the Omicron variant was comprehensively reviewed and various preventative measures were discussed during Sunday’s meeting, according to a spokesperson.

The ministry added that genomic surveillance for variants will be further strengthened and intensified, and health officials at airports and ports will be sensitized for strict supervision of testing protocol at entry points.

“Closer watch on the emerging pandemic situation within the country will be maintained,” it said.

Among those who attended the meeting on Sunday were Dr VK Paul, member (health), NITI Aayog, Dr Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and senior officers from health, civil aviation and other ministries.

The Union health ministry has also alerted states and union territories asking them to step up testing, vigilance, containment and vaccine coverage.

India registered 8,774 new cases of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on Sunday and 621 related deaths in the last 24 hours, with active cases of Covid-19 at 105,691 remaining the lowest in 543 days, according to the ministry of health and family welfare.

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