Omicron scare: India decides not to resume scheduled international flights from Dec 15

News Network
December 1, 2021

New Delhi, Dec 1: The government on Wednesday decided not to resume scheduled international flights from December 15, less than a week after announcing the decision in the wake of rising concerns over the Covid variant Omicron.

Aviation watchdog DGCA said the effective date for resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services will be notified in due course. Scheduled international flights remain suspended since March 23, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest move also comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 27 asked officials to review the plans for easing international travel restrictions amid concerns over Omicron.

In a circular on Wednesday, DGCA said that in view of the evolving global scenario with the emergence of new Variants of Concern, the situation is being watched closely in consultation with all stakeholders.

"...an appropriate decision indicating the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services shall be notified in due course," the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said.

The watchdog also referred to its circular issued on November 26 wherein it was decided that scheduled international flights will resume from December 15.

On November 28, a day after the Prime Minister's directions regarding the easing of international travel curbs, the government had said the decision to resume the services will be reviewed.

While no cases of Omicron have been reported in India so far, the authorities have put in place stricter norms for international passengers.

On November 29, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said the situation was being closely monitored and reviewed in consultation with other ministries regarding "any further decision" on resuming scheduled international passenger services.

In a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, Scindia had said the decision to resume the flights from December 15 was taken after recognising the increased vaccination coverage across the globe, changing nature of the pandemic and considering the health protocols, which have been put in place for international arrivals.

"However, in view of the evolving global scenario with the emergence of new variants of concern, the situation is being closely monitored and reviewed in consultation with other Ministries, with regard to taking any further decision on the issue," the minister had said.

Currently, international passenger flights are being operated under bilateral air bubble arrangements with various countries in a restricted manner.

As of November 24, India had formalised air bubble arrangements with 31 countries.

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Agencies
January 7,2022

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Haunted by the spectre of last year's crisis, India is bracing for a deluge of Covid-19 cases, with authorities of various megacities bringing in restrictions in a bid to keep infections in check.

Case numbers have yet to match the enormous figures seen last spring, when thousands died each day and the Hindu holy city of Varanasi maintained round-the-clock funeral pyres for the mass cremation of virus victims.

But daily infections nearly tripled over two days this week to more than 90,000, a surge driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant that some experts worry could again see the country's hospitals overwhelmed.

An overnight curfew has been imposed in the Delhi area that includes the capital, where weekend movement restrictions will begin on Friday evening, with all non-essential workers asked to stay home.

Tech hub Bangalore has also declared a weekend curfew, while sprawling financial centre Mumbai introduced a night curfew.

"Even a small percentage of a large number of cases translates to a large number in absolute terms," Gautam Menon, a professor at India's Ashoka University who has worked on Covid infection modelling, told AFP.

"This could potentially stress out health care systems to levels comparable to or worse than the second wave."

Doctors and nurses who spoke to AFP have so far been optimistic, with fewer severe cases among those patients admitted to hospital -- and with the benefit of experience.

"Last year, we didn't know what exactly we were dealing with. I think now, mentally, it's a little better," one frontline worker at a Delhi hospital said.

Suresh Kumar, director of Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital in the capital, where cases have quadrupled from a handful at the start of the week to 20, said the rise was "not a cause for panic".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration has so far shied away from the drastic nationwide lockdown introduced during last year's catastrophic outbreak.

But local officials have watched the sharply rising case numbers with alarm and some of India's biggest urban centres have moved to impose restrictions again.

Earlier virus lockdowns were a hammer blow to the Indian economy and many are worried about the financial impact of new restrictions.

"I will be working only for 15 days this month," said Delhi resident Tumul Srivastava, whose office is subject to the 50 percent occupancy limits imposed by the city.

"My salary may be deducted. All this is adding to my anxiety."

India appears better placed to weather Omicron than it was ahead of the calamitous Delta wave it suffered last spring, when more than 200,000 people died in a matter of weeks.

Back then, hospitals ran out of oxygen and patients desperately scrambled to source medicine after a run on pharmacies.

In the time since, Indian health workers have injected nearly 1.5 billion vaccine doses, with government data showing nearly two-thirds of the country fully vaccinated.

That campaign, combined with last year's Delta sweep of towns and villages around the country, may help lessen the impact of the latest spread.

"Though we do not have data, this may give strong hybrid immunity against severe outcomes," University of Michigan epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee told AFP.

Preliminary studies have so far suggested the Omicron variant has led to less severe health consequences among those infected, despite its rapid spread.

Mukherjee warned however that an uncontrolled spread of new infections could still pose serious problems for India, even if the direct virus toll is a fraction of that seen last year.

"As you are witnessing in the US and UK, a major chunk of the working population being sick is affecting the societal infrastructure and leading to chaos," she said.

"I am afraid there may be a period in India when we see the same thing -- just the sheer volume may make the system crumble."

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News Network
January 2,2022

New Delhi, Jan 2: With Covid-19 cases starting to mount in the country, the chief of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, said that there was no need for people without comorbidities to panic and urged them not to block hospital beds.

Dr Randeep Guleria, the AIIMS chief, said that the Omicron variant mainly affects the upper respiratory tract and airways, rather than the lungs even as 27,553 cases were reported on Sunday morning, according to a report by The Indian Express.

Guleria advised patients to isolate at home, citing low recovery time for the new variant. “Omicron is affecting the upper respiratory tract and more of the airways, rather than the lungs. That is why we see very fewer patients with a drop in oxygen saturation or the other severe symptoms we saw in Delta. What we are seeing here is more of fever, running nose, sore throat, and a lot of body ache and headache. If any of these symptoms persist, they should come forward and get themselves tested. Because then they can isolate themselves and prevent the infection from spreading to other people in the community,” he was quoted by the publication.

On Sunday, the Union Health Ministry announced the detection of 1,525 Omicron cases through genomic surveillance, of whom 560 have fully recovered.

Guleria said that hospital beds should be left free to those who are more vulnerable to severe disease. “There is no need to panic. It is important to understand that, unlike last time, this new variant doesn’t cause that much of a fall in oxygen saturation. Therefore, the focus in those who don’t have comorbidities should be home isolation. You should work on a home-isolation strategy, and not get into panic situations, blocking beds in hospitals, which is not required. Data also suggests that recovery happens much faster, therefore people will tend to improve faster,” he told the publication.

Guleria said that the country was “in a much better position at the beginning of the new year” due to high levels of immunity from past exposure, as well as the extensive vaccination coverage.

“It is time to be more vigilant. We are seeing a new variant in the form of Omicron, but we are in a much better position at the beginning of the new year compared to last year. That is because of multiple factors,” he said.

Guleria said that a large number of people have also got immunity because of natural infection, and serosurvey data suggests high immunity in the general population. “We are also better prepared in terms of facilities. Whether it is medical oxygen plants, ICU beds, ventilators. So in terms of preparation and our immune response, we are in a better position,” he told the publication.

Guleria also warned that indoor events can turn super-spreaders and cause a spike. “More importantly, because this is a very highly infectious variant, avoiding crowds, which can be a super spreading event, is also important. Especially, indoor events, where there is poor ventilation, can be one area where one can see a surge in cases,” he was quoted as saying.

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News Network
January 13,2022

With Covid-19 cases surging in India, clouds have formed over the likelihood of India being the venue for the 2022 Indian Premier League (IPL).

The Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI)  is mulling holding the league outside of India amid the ongoing scenario. However, unlike the past two years where the IPL has been partially or fully held in UAE because of the pandemic, the BCCI is now keen to look at other options for the flagship event.

Cricket board officials are considering South Africa and Sri Lanka as their backup options for IPL 2022, according to a report in The Indian Express.

“We can’t be dependent on UAE all the time so we decided to explore more options, South Africa’s time difference also works out well for the players,” a BCCI official told the publication.

South Africa, so far, has hosted two cricket series and has impressed BCCI officials for the way the country handled the Indian players.

“The place where the team was staying for the second Test is spread over several acres. There were walking tracks and even a pond on the property and that has made things easier for the players who for the last couple of years or so have been confined to their rooms on several overseas tours,” an official said.

A BCCI official, recently said that the board is prioritising holding the tournament in India but the decision will be dependent on what the state governments decide.

BCCI had to postpone the upcoming edition of the Ranji Trophy indefinitely due to the rise in Covid cases in the camps. The domestic U19 Behar Trophy was also halted midway for the same reason.

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