A chorus is growing loud in India against the opening up of normal international flight operations from December 15 against the back of the new and reportedly more infectious ‘Omicron’ variant of Covid-19.
The demand coincides with the Centre’s advisory to states and UTs to ensure preparedness of health infrastructure like availability of ICU, O2 beds, ventilators, amongst others and to focus on rural areas.
At present, several nations have either closed their air spaces or placed strict restrictions on incoming passengers.
In this environment, especially after suffering the massive second wave of Covid-19 which was unleashed by the Delta variant, many are questioning the Centre’s move to open up the sector.
According to a survey done by LocalCircles, a majority of people want the Centre to reconsider its decision on lifting of foreign flights in light of the new Omicron or Covid B.1.1.529 variant.
“Two in three citizens want the government to reconsider its decision about restarting international flights from December 15, 2021 in light of the new Omicron or Covid B.1.1.529 variant,” the survey showed.
Currently, several countries in Europe have gone into lockdowns due to rising Covid-19 Delta cases and Japan has suspended international flights.
Also, a few other countries have either banned or placed strict restrictions on international flights.
Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday raised concerns on the delay in stopping international flights.
“Many countries have stopped incoming flights from Omicron-affected countries. Why are we delaying? Even in the first wave, we had delayed stopping foreign flights. Most of the foreign flights come to Delhi, Delhi is the most affected. PM please stop flights immediately,” Kejriwal posted on Twitter.
As per the Centre’s guidelines, the passengers travelling from countries that are categorised as ‘at risk’ will have to undergo testing on arrival. These guidelines will come into effect from Tuesday midnight.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan chaired a high-level meeting with states and UTs to review measures and preparedness amid reports of Omicron variant of Covid-19 across various countries.
The states were advised to undertake effective surveillance of international passengers, strengthen the testing infrastructure, effective monitoring of hotspots, and ensuring augmentation of health infrastructure.
But aviation stakeholders do not favour blanket bans.
“Well, suspending or extending the suspension of flights would be a knee jerk reaction. We need better screening at the airports and ensuring that only fully vaccinated people travel to the country,” said IATO President Rajiv Mehra.
“We should be alert but avoid alarmist attitude. Medical experts also are of the opinion that there should not be a scare, however we should continue to wear mask and follow Covid appropriate behaviour.”
India decided to allow resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services from December 15.
However, the government said there will be a calibrated resumption of operations from the countries recognised as “at risk” by the Health Ministry.
There are over 10 countries in the “at risk” list including countries in Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana and China amongst others.
Passenger air services were suspended in late March 2020 due to the nationwide lockdown to check the spread of Covid-19. While domestic flight services resumed from May 25, 2020, international flight services were only maintained via bilateral ‘Bubble Agreements’.
India has air bubble pacts with 28 countries.