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Govt to review decision on restarting international flights, SOP for incoming passengers amid Omicron concerns

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 28

The government on Monday said it has decided to review its decision to resume operation of scheduled commercial international passenger services from December 15 and also the SOP on testing and surveillance of incoming passengers, particularly from countries identified as “at risk”, in view of the emerging concerns over the new Covid-19 variant “Omicron”.

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An official spokesperson of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said these decisions were taken at a high-level meeting chaired by Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, where all the stakeholders in the government were present.

Incidentally, Bhalla called the meeting a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a high-level deliberation with senior functionaries of the government amid concerns over the new Covid-19 variant “Omicron”.

After a gap of over 20 months, the government on Friday had announced that it has decided to resume scheduled international commercial flights from December 15.

The MHA spokesperson said, “Decision on effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passengers’ service, to be reviewed, as per evolving global scenario.”

He said, at the meeting, chaired by the home secretary, “the overall global situation in the wake of the Omicron virus was comprehensively reviewed and various preventive measures in place and to be further strengthened were discussed”.

The new, potentially more contagious B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 24 and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

The WHO on Friday had designated it as a “Variant of Concern” and named it Omicron. A variant of concern is the WHO’s top category of worrying Covid-19 variants.

“Government to review Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on testing and surveillance of incoming international passengers, especially for those countries identified ‘at risk’ category,” the spokesperson said.

The government has also decided that the genomic surveillance for variants will be further strengthened and intensified and Airport Health Officials (APHOs) and Port Health Officials (PHOs) will be sensitised for strict supervision of testing protocol at airports and seaports.

A closer watch on the emerging pandemic situation within the country will also be maintained, he said, adding that the meeting was held with various experts, including VK Paul, Member (Health), NITI Aayog, Vijay Raghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to Prime Minister, senior officers from Health, Civil Aviation and other Ministries.

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