Amid concerns of the spread of the highly mutated Omicron coronavirus variant, the Union government said it will review its decision on the effective date of the resumption of international commercial flights, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Home Affairs said on Sunday, November 28. The decision was taken after a high level review meeting held by the Prime Minister on the new Omicron variant, which has been labelled a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation. A couple of days ago, the Civil Aviation Ministry announced that scheduled international flights to and from India will resume from December 15, after 20 months of coronavirus-induced suspension.
In a series of tweets, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that a closer watch on the emerging pandemic situation within the country will be maintained amid mounting global concerns over the new coronavirus variant.
The Union government will review the Standard Operating Procedure(SOP) on testing and surveillance of incoming international passengers, especially for those countries identified in the ‘at risk’ category, the MHA said. In a statement, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that at the meeting chaired by the Prime Minister, the overall global situation, in wake of the Omicron variant, was comprehensively reviewed and various preventive measures in place and to be further strengthened were discussed.
Genomic surveillance for variants to be further strengthened and intensified and airport and port officials will be sensitised for strict supervision of testing protocol at airports and ports.
A day ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had directed officials to review plans for easing of international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence on the variant.
The new, potentially more contagious B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 24 and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. It was on Friday designated as a "Variant of Concern" by the WHO, which named it Omicron. A variant of concern is the WHO's top category of worrying COVID-19 variants.
India's decision to resume scheduled international passenger flights has come at a time when various countries such as Britain, Germany, Singapore, Israel, France and Italy have restricted air travel from southern Africa where cases of the new coronavirus variant of serious health implications have been reported.