India’s December 15 International Flight Restart Under Review


India's December 15 International Flight Restart Under Review

The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the WHO on November 24 (Representational)

New Delhi:

India might hit the brakes on resuming commercial international flights following an outbreak of the new COVID-19 variant of concern ‘Omicron’ in some countries. The decision, however, will have no impact on air bubbles that are operating as of now, officials have said.

The central government on Sunday reviewed the strategy following reports that the new variant is more lethal and spreads easily than other Covid variants. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, a closer watch is being kept on the emerging pandemic situation within the country.

In a high-level meeting chaired by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, the decision to resume the scheduled commercial international flights was reviewed keeping the evolving global scenario in mind.

The meeting was held with various experts including V K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to Prime Minister, senior officers from Health, Civil Aviation and other Ministries.

“The overall global situation in the wake of Omicron was comprehensively reviewed. Various preventive measures in place and to be further strengthened were discussed in the meeting,” a senior official who participated in the meeting said.

According to him the standard operating procedure on testing and surveillance of incoming international passengers, especially for those countries identified ‘at risk’ category is being adopted. “Airport Health Officials and Port Health officials have been sensitised for strict supervision of testing protocols at airports and ports,” he adds.

The meeting was held a day after a high-level review meet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the new COVID-19 variant of concern ‘Omicron’.

After a long hiatus of more than 20 months, the government had on November 26 announced the resumption of scheduled international commercial flights from December 15.

Scheduled international flights have been suspended in India since March 23, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, special international passenger flights have been operating since July last year under air bubble arrangements formed with 31 countries.

The new, potentially more contagious B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 24 and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel.

It was on Friday designated as a “Variant of Concern” by the WHO, which named it ‘Omicron’. A variant of concern is the WHO’s top category of worrying COVID-19 variants.