India Issues Revised Guidelines for International Arrivals

India, ready to restart scheduled international flights, now issues revised guidelines amid fear of spreading of Omicron variant of COVID-19 virus. Mandatory COVID-19 test for all passengers from at risk countries.
India Issues Revised Guidelines for International Arrivals
India Issues Revised Guidelines for International Arrivals

As expectations from the travel and hospitality industry rose high with the Indian government deciding to allow restarting of scheduled international flights from December 15 this year, news about the spread of the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529 (now referred to as the Omicron) has forced the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to rush to issue a revised guideline for international arrivals.

The various changes being made to rules and regulations for international flights and passengers is a developing situation. As of today, there are the guidelines that have been announced 

  • From December 1, the aviation ministry requires all international travellers to submit 14 days' travel history, a negative RT-PCR report on the Air Suvidha portal as well as an authenticity declaration for the COVID-19 test report. 
  • Stranded Indian nationals in South Africa, where the variant was first identified, have been asked to reach out to their local consulates.
  • According to the revised guideline (dated November 28) for international arrivals, all travellers (irrespective of COVID-19 vaccination status) coming to India from countries identified as &lsquocountries at-risk&rsquo have to mandatorily undergo post-arrival COVID-19 testing at airport on arrival in addition to pre-departure COVID-19 testing undertaken 72 hours before the departure.
  • For passengers found positive in these tests, they will be isolated and treated as per the clinical management protocol besides their samples also taken for Whole Genome Sequencing. The passengers found negative can depart the airport but have to undergo home isolation for seven days, followed by repeat testing on the eighth day of arrival in India, followed by seven days of self-monitoring.
  • Further, in view of news of an increasing number of countries reporting the Omicron variant, the present guidelines also mandate that five percent of the travellers coming from countries which are not in the &lsquoat risk category&rsquo will also be tested on random basis at the airports for COVID-19.
  • Samples of all individuals testing positive for Covid-19, either at airports under home isolation or during random sampling, will also be sent for Whole Genomic Sequencing at identified INSACOG network laboratories to determine the presence of SARS-CoV-2 variants (including Omicron).

The Union government has also urged states for rigorous surveillance of international passengers, enhanced testing, monitoring the hotspots of COVID -19, ensuring augmentation of health infrastructure, including undertaking samples for whole genome sequencing.

The new guidelines will come into effect from December 1 this year.

Meanwhile, media reports quoted the Union government as saying there is no case of Omicron variant in India but two clusters are being investigated in Karnataka and Maharashtra. According to reports, COVID-19 samples of people returning from South Africa to Karnataka and Maharashtra have been sent for Omicron testing.

With the World Health Organisation (WHO), in its latest statement (dated November 28, 2021), saying that the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high, has put the world in quandary. On November 26, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 (now referred to as the Omicron) a variant of concern (VOC). According to reports, the South African doctor who raised the alarm about the Omicron variant says symptoms are mild.

According to a statement from the WHO, the B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to them from South Africa on November 24, 2021. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9, 2021. According to latest media reports, new cases are now being reported from various parts of the world too.

So if you are planning to travel abroad, then do check for the latest updates from the destination countries. Amid Omicron fears, many countries are imposing fresh restrictions as well as shelving plans to ease their COVID-9 measures. South Korea has said it is shelving its plans to ease its COVID-19 measures Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan have either restricted travel to or stopped flights from southern Africa.

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