India defers resumption of international flights with an eye on Covid-19 variants

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The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Wednesday delayed the resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger airline services to or from India, mentioning that it will notify its decision on the same in due time. In a meeting late last month, the central government had announced that commercial international flights shall resume from December 15, after a long hiatus of more than 20 months in between. That decision, however, came under renewed scrutiny as recently as last Sunday, when the government reviewed the strategy following reports of omicron’s emergence.

Now, a notice issued by the regulatory body on civil aviation today confirmed that the central government is indeed hitting the brakes on the resumption of commercial international flights and that the relevant authorities are monitoring the global coronavirus disease (Covid-19) situation, especially in the wake of the emergence of the new omicron variant which is said to be highly contagious and capable of undergoing rapid mutations.

“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, and an appropriate decision indicating the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services shall be notified in due course,” read the circular issued by the office of the DGCA on Wednesday.

A decision on the resumption of commercial international flights will likely only be taken after the government finds it relatively safer to do so amid the prevailing pandemic situation. However, the international ‘air bubble’ agreements with different countries shall continue to function as they are now, officials have said.

Earlier this week, junior aviation minister Gen (retired) VK Singh told the ANI news agency that there has been “tremendous pressure” from the public for the last two months to resume international scheduled flights. However, the omicron variant of the coronavirus has clouded the future of commercial international travel and put both the central and multiple state governments in a state of high alert.

From December 1, India has instituted a set of new rules for arriving international passengers, especially from ‘at risk’ countries. Under the new norms, there are separate protocols for travellers arriving from countries enlisted as “at risk” of the omicron variant and nations excluded from the said list. It involves detailed guidelines on testing, sampling, and quarantine of cases detected at the airport, if any.

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