Omicron: International flights unlikely to resume on December 15
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Wednesday indicated the resumption of commercial international flights will likely be delayed. The decision has been taken in view of the new, Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the aviation body said. Authorities had recently announced the restarting of regular international flights from December 15. Here are more details on this.
Why does it matter?
- The DGCA's statement all but confirms the resumption of regular international flights will take longer - a bad sign for the economy and overall normalcy.
- India was set to resume foreign flights from mid-December after months of pause but that plan has now gone for a toss.
- The country has not officially reported a case of Omicron but experts and the public are concerned.
DGCA says 'situation being closely watched'
"In view of the evolving global scenario with the emergence of new variants of concern, the situation is being watched closely in consultation with all stakeholders," read the circular issued by the DGCA on Wednesday. "An appropriate decision indicating the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services shall be notified in due course," it added.
India had suspended international flights last March
India had suspended regular international flight services in March 2020 in view of the coronavirus pandemic. The government launched Vande Bharat flights to bring home Indians who were stranded in foreign countries during the pandemic. Later on, the Civil Aviation Ministry entered into air bubble agreements allowing international travel to and from several countries involved in the pact.
India imposes new air travel curbs
Contrary to India's reopening plans, all major airports across the country now have strict screening and testing rules for international passengers. All international arrivals are required to submit a negative RT-PCR report before the journey and while arriving from nations labeled "at-risk" must give their samples for testing. If found positive, they will be quarantined and their samples will be sent for genome sequencing.
Which countries are labeled at-risk?
Countries that have been labeled at-risk by the Indian government include Brazil, Botswana, China, Hong Kong, Israel, Mauritius, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, and all the European nations.
What is known about Omicron?
Omicron—whose scientific name is B.1.1.529—has some 50 mutations including more than 30 in its key spike protein alone. The strain is the most prevalent in South Africa but cases have also been confirmed in over a dozen other countries including the UK, Israel, and Japan. Researchers are working to understand whether it is more transmissible and if the current vaccines offer protection against it.