Govt to review move to restart international flights

Government to review decision on restarting international flights

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

A mother carrying her child waits to enter Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, during the Covid-19 pandemic in Mumbai. Credit: PTI File Photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday asked the officials to review plans for easing of international travel restrictions in the wake of emergence of the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 that has been described as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organisation.

Reviewing the Covid-19 situation with top officials, Modi flagged the need to keep a close watch on all international arrivals and undertake rigorous testing as per the guidelines prepared by the Union Health Ministry. The surveillance will have a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’

At the meeting he asked officials to review the plans for easing of international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence.

The cautionary note from the Prime Minister comes a day after the World Health Organisation described the new variant (B.1.1.529) – reported first from Botswana and South Africa – as a variant of concern that carries “an increased risk of reinfection”.

Also Read | Kejriwal urges Modi to ban flights from countries hit by Covid-19 Omicron variant

This variant (Omicron) has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VoCs. The number of Omicron cases is increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.

“If you look at the mutations, Omicron looks like a nasty one,” veteran scientist Gagandeep Kang, a professor at the Christian Medical College, Vellore told DH. “But we need more clinical information.”

The world health body asked the countries to enhance their surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand the circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.

With several countries shutting their doors to South Africa and its neighbours, India would also re-examine its plans to open up the skies after a gap of 21 months. The Ministry of Civil Aviation on Friday had announced resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services to and from India from December 15 as was the norm on March 23, 2020.

The Prime Minister reminded the officials to carry out genome sequencing with samples collected from international travellers and community as per norms and tested such samples through the network of labs already established under INSACOG to look out for early warning signals from the variants of concerns.

Since people needed to be more cautious and take proper precautions like masking and social distancing in the backdrop of the Omicron threat, Modi directed the officials to work closely with states to ensure increased awareness about Covid-19 at the state and district level.

On the ongoing second surge that witnessed around 10,000 new cases daily, the Prime Minister stressed on continuing with intensive containment and active surveillance in clusters reporting higher cases. He asked the officials to step up vaccination efforts to expand the second dose coverage that currently stands at 45 per cent of the adult population, besides launching campaigns on the ventilation and air-borne behaviour of the virus.

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