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India To Resume International Flights From December 15: Report

Grant of tourist visas has also been renewed, the government has said (File)

New Delhi:

India will resume scheduled international flights from December 15, subject to conditions, the Civil Aviation Ministry said Friday evening, noting that the “matter has been reviewed and the competent authority” had decided to resume such flights (to and from India).

“Resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services, to and from India, has been examined in consultation with Ministry of Home Affairs, External Affairs and Health, and it has been decided… may be resumed from December 15,” the ministry said.

The Aviation Ministry said 14 countries designated by the Health Ministry as ‘at risk’, and with whom there is an existing ‘air bubble’ agreement, would be allowed to resume 75 per cent of pre-Covid operations (or a minimum of seven frequencies per week).

These 14 countries are United Kingdom, Singapore, China, Brazil, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, and New Zealand. The list also includes South Africa, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong – countries that have confirmed cases of the new B.1.1.529 variant of the coronavirus.

Countries designated as ‘at risk’ but without ‘air bubble’ agreements with India would be allowed to resume 50 per cent of bilateral capacity entitlements, the Aviation Ministry said.

Scheduled international passenger flights between India and other countries can return to normal.

Scheduled international flights – except repatriation services and flights carrying essential goods – were suspended in March last year after the Covid lockdown.

Restrictions were eased gradually – as the caseload dropped and vaccination coverage increased, with ‘air bubble’ arrangements with other countries.

Under such a deal, international passenger flights can be operated by member countries’ carriers into each other’s territories, subject to certain conditions.

The decision to re-open scheduled international passenger traffic comes amid concern over the B.1.1.529 strain first detected in South Africa and since in Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

Germany and Italy have joined Britain in banning most travel from South Africa as governments scramble to stop the new variant. In a sign of growing alarm, the European Union separately proposed prohibiting travel from southern Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned countries against immediately imposing travel restrictions, calling for a “risk-based and scientific approach”.

The new variant has been red-flagged for an alarmingly high number of mutations (50), including more than 30 on the spike protein, which is what the virus uses to unlock access to our body’s cells.

Researchers are still trying to confirm whether this makes it more transmissible or lethal than earlier variants.

Last week Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said the government was evaluating the process of normalising international flight operations. He said the government will take measures to guard against a renewed wave of infections, particularly since several European nations have seen surges.

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