Omicron triggers alert: Travel doors shut again

By Netpal Travel Bureau

‘Omicron’ the new Covid-19 strain rises with several countries reporting fresh cases. India has also tightened and introduced new guidelines for international passengers, as per the revised order, irrespective of vaccination status. All the travellers arriving to India from ‘at-risk’ countries have to mandatorily undergo COVID-19 testing at the airport on arrival in addition to pre-departure COVID-19 testing undertaken 72 hours before the departure.

The European Union, Japan, Australia, the United States, and Canada have blocked flights from African countries following the discovery of the Omicron variant, ringing previous emergency responses that triggered a global restriction on travel.

The speed with which the new constraints were put in place — just hours after the South African health authorities announced the discovery of the variant, meant passengers have found themselves stranded without a warning. While scientists in South Africa were the first to identify the new variant, it is unclear whether it emerged there or was brought there from another country.

Despite the bans, the new variant has already been found in at least a dozen countries. Most of the cases detected have been in travellers returning from the region.

The Omicron variant was identified days ago by researchers in South Africa, and much is still not known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness, or more able to evade the protection of vaccines.

The past two waves wreaking havoc on India’s economy and healthcare infrastructure, however, seem to have made the government more vigilant.

Travellers will also have to fill out self-declarative forms on the online Air Suvidha portal revealing their travel history over the past two weeks.

Several states and UTs have raised demands for a complete ban on international flights. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Jharkhand Health Minister Banna Gupta were among the few who demanded a temporary ban on international travel in wale of the virus. The states like Bihar, West Bengal, and Punjab are yet to issue new travel advisories.

Despite limited information on the virus, several countries have rushed to act, reflecting anxiety about anything that could prolong the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people.

The ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic further emphasise the importance of national authorities ensuring that immigration procedures and requirements are provided in a timely, reliable, and consistent manner across all information systems and platforms, to maintain confidence and trust and further facilitate international mobility.

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