India will resume scheduled international flights from December 15, the Civil Aviation Ministry said Friday evening, in a report by news agency PTI.
“The matter of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services, to and from India, has been examined in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Health, and it has been decided… may be resumed from December 15,” PTI quoted an order from the Aviation Ministry.
Scheduled international flights – except repatriation services and flights carrying essential goods – were suspended in March last year, as the country went into a Covid lockdown.
Restrictions were eased gradually – as the caseload dropped and vaccination coverage increased, with ‘air bubble’ arrangements with other countries. India currently has 28 such deals.
Under such a deal, international passenger flights can be operated by member countries’ respective carriers into each other’s territories, subject to certain conditions.
The decision to re-open scheduled international passenger traffic comes amid rising concern over a new variant of the coronavirus – the B.1.1.529 strain first detected in South Africa.
The variant has since spread to neighbouring Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.
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.
Germany and Italy have joined Britain in banning most travel from South Africa as governments across the world scramble to prevent the spread of the new variant. In a sign of the growing alarm, the European Union separately proposed prohibiting travel from southern Africa.
It is unclear, at this time, if any of the countries reporting this new strain figure on the Indian government’s ‘no-fly’ list.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for calm in responding to this new variant, underlining the fact that studies need to be carried out to understand the new mutations.
Last week Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said the government was evaluating the process of normalising international flight operations.
He said that while the government was keen for things to return to normal, it would take measures to guard against a renewed wave of coronavirus infections, particularly since several major European nations have recorded frightening surge in daily new cases.
“I am all for regaining our space in the civil aviation arena in the world and making a hub in India and for more wide body aircraft. We will get there but bear with me and trust me… I am on your side. We will work together but in a safe environment,” he said at a public event.
Domestic flights – similarly restricted during the lockdown – were allowed at full capacity from last month, after also having only been allowed a certain number of flights in each sector initially.
The government resumed domestic flight ops in May last year after a two-month break..
With input from PTI