New Delhi: In wake of the emergence of the new COVID Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’, India will review its decision on the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passengers services.
The decision was taken in an urgent meeting chaired by Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla. The meeting followed the high-level review by Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue.
According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, it was decided that the government will further review Standard Operating Procedure on testing and surveillance of incoming international passengers, especially for those countries identified ‘at risk’ category,
Chairing the meeting at around 11.30 am, the Home Secretary in presence of experts decided that a closer watch on the emerging pandemic situation within the country will be maintained.
Besides, other experts including Dr V K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Dr Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to Prime Minister and senior officers from Health, Civil Aviation and other Ministries comprehensively reviewed the overall global situation in wake of the Omicron virus.
“Various preventive measures in place and to be further strengthened were discussed. Further, the decision on the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passengers service will be reviewed, as per evolving global scenario,” said a Home Ministry statement.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, genomic surveillance for variants is to be further strengthened and intensified. “Airport Health Officials (APHOs) and Port Health Officials (PHOs) will be sensitized for strict supervision of testing protocol at airports and ports.”
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had chaired a comprehensive meeting that lasted for almost two hours to review the public health preparedness and vaccination-related situation for COVID-19.
As per an official statement issued by Prime Minister Office, officials briefed the Prime Minister about the new Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’ along with its characteristics and the impact seen in various countries.
Its implications for India were also discussed. Prime Minister Modi spoke about the need to be proactive in light of the new variant.
He highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, their testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’. Prime Minister also asked officials to review plans for easing international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence.
The government had decided to resume scheduled regular international flights from December 15, nearly 20 months after these flights were suspended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had suspended operations of scheduled international commercial passenger services to and from India with effect from March 23, 2020, due to COVID-19.
“The matters of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services to/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 (MoHFW) and it has been decided that scheduled commercial international passenger services to/from India may be resumed from 15.12.2021,” the Ministry of Civil Aviation had said in an order on Friday.
For the resumptions of flights, the countries have been categorized into three categories with separate capacity restrictions. The categorization has been done based on the COVID-19 situation in the country.
Flights to and from the countries which have been identified by the Ministry of Health as not “at-risk” will have full capacity entitlements as per bilateral air service agreements.
Flights from countries identified to be “at-risk” and with whom air bubbles have been formalized, will have 75 per cent of pre-Covid operations of Indian and foreign carriers.
However, countries identified to be “at-risk” and with whom air bubbles have not been formalized, will have 50 per cent of bilateral capacity entitlements or 50 per cent of pre-COVID-19 operation of Indian or foreign carrier whichever is higher.
The ministry had clarified that the resumption of commercial international passenger services would imply reversion to bilaterally agreed capacity entitlements and termination of bubble arrangements.
India has categorized 16 countries including some in Europe in “at-risk” category.
“The flights to these 16 countries will follow the guidelines related to air bubbles and under Vande Bharat mission (VBM),” a source told ANI.
The countries are UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.
India had embarked on Vande Bharat Mission to bring back its citizens stranded abroad due to travel restrictions imposed in the wake of COVID-19. It also signed air bubble arrangements with some countries.