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Omicron threat: International flights back on hold, won't resume from December 15


NEW DELHI: Days after announcing resumption of international commercial flights from December 15, the Centre on Wednesday indefinitely put it off in the wake of concerns over the spread of the newly detected Omicron strain of Covid globally. 

“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,” the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said. 

The decision came days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked officials to review plans to ease international travel restrictions by factoring in the Omicron outbreak in countries labeled at-risk. The at-risk nations are: Europe, UK, South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.

International commercial flights have been suspended for as many as 21 months since March 2020. However, special passenger flights have been operating since July last year under air bubble arrangements with around 28 countries.

Many state governments have already urged Modi not to resume flights from ‘at risk’ countries for now. Maharashtra went much further and directed all international arrivals to take mandatory RT-PCR tests and 14 days of home quarantine, even if they are not from at-risk nations, prompting a rebuke from the Centre. It directed the Uddhav government to align itself with the guidelines already issued by the Union health ministry.

Maharashtra had also made it mandatory for those from at risk countries to be placed in institutional quarantine of seven days, during which they had to take three RT-PCR tests (on the second, fourth and seventh days after arrival). A positive test during this period would land them in hospital.

Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan’s missive said the state’s order is in divergence with the Cnetre’s SoPs. “I would, therefore, urge you to align the orders issued by the state with the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health, Government of India,” he said.

Six positive cases from at-risk countries
Six Covid-positive cases were reported on Wednesday after screening 3,476 passengers from 11 flights that arrived in India from ‘at-risk’ countries. Their samples have been sent for genomic sequencing, the health ministry said