Rising concern over Omicron, the new Covid-19 version, has led the government to make a difficult decision just a fortnight before international flights were set to start in India.
According to a Ministry of Home Affairs official, the Centre has decided to reconsider the effective date of the resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services. The standard operating procedures (SOP) for testing and monitoring of arriving passengers, particularly from countries regarded as 'at risk' in the shifting global scenario, were also reviewed.
The decisions were made during an emergency meeting chaired by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, which was attended by a wide range of stakeholders. This comes just a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a high-level review conference on Omicron, a type of risk recognised by the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, in response to the threat posed by the Omicron form, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has updated the existing requirements for overseas arrivals. Passengers from countries classified as "at risk" will be subjected to a 7-day obligatory home quarantine following an RT-PCR test at the point of entry. Travelers from other countries will be permitted to depart the airport and will be requested to self-monitor their health for 14 days after their arrival. On arrival, 5% of all aircraft passengers will be subjected to random post-arrival testing at the airport. The Ministry of Civil Aviation will bear the expense of testing such passengers. The new policies will go into force on December 1.
Various experts, including Dr. V K Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Dr. Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister, and top officials from Health, Civil Aviation, and other Ministries, attended the meeting, said the spokesperson.
"The whole worldwide situation in the aftermath of the Omicron virus was thoroughly examined. Various preventative measures in place and to be enhanced were reviewed," said a spokesperson for the home ministry.
The group also agreed to increase and expand genomic surveillance for variations. Following a 21-month ban, the government announced on November 26 the resumption of scheduled international commercial flights beginning December 15.
The new, potentially more infectious B.1.1.529 variety was originally found in South Africa on November 24 and has since spread to the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia, and Hong Kong.