Omicron: Curbs on international flights extended till January 31
Due to concerns over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, the government has prolonged the suspension on scheduled foreign flights until January 31. International flights were supposed to start again on December 15. However, flights operating under bubble arrangements with other countries will continue to operate, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) clarified Thursday.
Why does it matter?
The Omicron variant is said to be the most heavily mutated strain of SARS-CoV-2 yet. Although early studies say it is milder than the Delta variant, evidence suggests it may be more transmissible and could evade prior immunity. As of Monday, India had confirmed 23 cases of Omicron, which has been detected in at least 57 countries worldwide.
What did the DGCA say?
A DGCA circular Thursday extended the "suspension of scheduled international commercial passenger services to/from India till 2359 hrs IST of 31st January 2022." International all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by the DGCA will be exempt. International flights may be authorized on specified routes on a case-by-case basis. Notably, India had halted international commercial passenger flights on March 23, 2020.
International air travel allowed with these countries
India has allowed international flights to operate with certain countries under specific air bubble arrangements. India has signed these agreements with 32 nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Bhutan, France, etc. Earlier this month, India had sent proposals for air bubble arrangements to 10 other nations, including Saudi Arabia.
More restrictions for 'at-risk' nations
Separately, in light of the Omicron scare, India has stepped up screening and testing for COVID-19 for international returnees from certain "at-risk" countries. These include Brazil, Botswana, China, Ghana, Mauritius, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and several European nations. Incidentally, India recently removed Singapore from its list of "at-risk" countries. Singapore has a significant Indian diaspora.
What are India's testing guidelines?
Several countries have implemented new travel restrictions due to the emergence of the Omicron variant. Travelers arriving from "at-risk" countries must undergo RT-PCR testing for COVID-19. Those found negative will have to undergo a seven-day quarantine followed by a retest on the eighth day. Those found positive will have their samples sent for genome sequencing to ascertain whether they are carrying the Omicron variant.