The Ministry of Civil Aviation has announced that India will allow commercial international flights to fly as per their schedules from December 15 to the countries where the COVID-19 virus is under control. The announcement is a relief to the passengers who are planning for their Christmas travels abroad.
14 countries are barred
On the other hand, India has also barred to and from flights from 14 countries on account of an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in those countries, especially in light of emerging new virus variants. The barred nations include the UK, Netherlands, France, South Africa, Germany, Finland, Botswana, China, Brazil, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Singapore, New Zealand and Zimbabwe.
India will continue the air bubble arrangements with these 14 countries, if any, under which a certain number of flights are permitted every week.
Categorization of countries
The Civil Aviation Secretary Rajiv Bansal and Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had expressed that the country will soon resume international travel for the citizens. However, the ban of 14 countries came in the light of the discovery of the new COVID-19 virus variant.
“The health ministry has taken a decision on exempting countries based on the level of threat in light of the new COVID strain as well as rising infection rates in these countries,” the statement from the Ministry said.
The decision to include and exclude the countries are made by listing the countries under three categories – countries not at risk; countries at risk, but India has air bubble arrangements; and countries at risk, where India has no air bubble arrangements.
Countries not at risk include locations like the USA and Canada. India will allow 75% lesser flights than the pre-COVID times to category two or the countries where air bubble arrangements exist but are still a risk. India will allow 50% flights lesser than the pre-COVID times to category three countries, where the risk is still high, and India does not have air bubble arrangements.
South Africa confirmed a new variant of COVID-19 on Thursday, which is believed to be more transmissible and vaccine evasive. The same variant was later identified in Botswana and Hong Kong as well. The decision on Hong Kong flights is yet to be known.
The Ministry has taken the decision to resume after consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of External Affairs.
Ministry had barred the commercial flights from their regular international services since March 2020. However, certain special international flights have been operating since July 2020 under air bubble arrangements.
According to industry experts, the decision is the right step towards opening air traffic.