Omicron scare: Resumption of scheduled international flights from Dec 15 postponed

Aviation watchdog DGCA said the effective date for resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services will be notified in due course

Credit: Reuters Photo

Concerns over the new Covid-19 variant Omicron forced the government on Wednesday to defer the resumption of scheduled international flights from December 15, reversing a decision taken five days ago.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation issued a circular saying that an "appropriate decision indicating the effective date for resumption" of scheduled commercial international passenger services will be "notified in due course".

The decision was taken "in view of the evolving global scenario with the emergence of new Variants of Concern (VoC)". The situation is being watched closely, it said.

Scheduled international flights remain suspended since March 23, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 27, a day after the government announced the resumption of services, asked officials to review the plans for easing international travel restrictions. After a high-level meeting chaired by Union Home Minister Ajay Bhalla the next day, the government made it clear that the decision to resume the services will be reviewed.

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia also said on November 29 that the situation was being closely monitored and reviewed in consultation with other ministries regarding "any further decision" on resuming scheduled international passenger services.

The government in Rajya Sabha claimed that the decision on resumption of flights was taken after recognising the increased vaccination coverage across the world, changing nature of the pandemic and considering health protocols, which have been put in place for international arrivals.

Since July last year, international flights were allowed to operate under air bubble arrangements with 28 countries but no full-scale international operations were there since 23 March, 2020.

While announcing the resumption of services, the DGCA had categorised countries into three categories -- not at risk, at-risk but have air bubble arrangements, and at-risk and no air bubble agreement.

All services from countries identified as 'not at risk' will be allowed as per bilateral air service arrangements.

For countries 'at-risk' but have air bubble arrangements, Indian and foreign carriers can have 75 per cent of pre-Covid operations, whichever is higher or a minimum of seven frequencies per week.

Only 50 per cent of bilateral capacity entitlements or 50 per cent of pre-Covid operations, whichever is higher, will be allowed for countries 'at-risk' but have no air bubble arrangements.

As on November 30, countries in Europe, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel are in the 'at-risk' category of countries.

Bangladesh is the one country that has been taken off the at-risk list that was published on November 26, the day the government had announced the resumption of international services.

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