India to resume international flights from December 15
India will resume regular international flights starting December 15, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said on Friday. However, there will still be restrictions on at least 14 countries that have been designated as "at risk" by the Union Health Ministry. International travel has remained affected since March last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are more details on this.
Why does it matter?
- The decision comes as India's daily COVID-19 numbers remain low and vaccination coverage has gained pace.
- It marks a big step toward normalcy and will give a boost to the economy.
- However, it coincides with the discovery of a new and threatening variant of the coronavirus in South Africa and other countries.
- The strain is said to be the most heavily mutated so far.
Civil Aviation Ministry issues statement
"The matter of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services to and from India has been examined in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare," the Civil Aviation Ministry stated. "It has been decided that scheduled commercial international passenger services to and from India may be resumed from December 15, 2021."
Which countries will be subject to curbs?
The 14 countries categorized as being at risk include the United Kingdom, Singapore, China, Brazil, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, South Africa, Botswana, Israel, and Hong Kong. Of them, countries with which India has an air bubble agreement would be subject to a 75% limit on capacity. For others, a 50% limit on capacity has been fixed by the authorities.
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.
Decision comes amid new variant threat
The decision to restart international flights comes at a time when there are growing concerns over the new B.1.1.529 strain of coronavirus. The variant, which is most prevalent in South Africa, has also been detected in Botswana, Israel, and Hong Kong. Several countries, including the UK and Italy, have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and neighboring nations.