PARIS, France – India said on Friday it will resume international passenger flights from mid – December with COVID-19 linked curbs for ‘at risk’ countries, and ordered tightened screening at borders as fear over a new coronavirus variant spread globally.
The federal health ministry said reports of mutations in the variant, identified as B.1.1.529, had ‘serious public health implications’, and asked states to adopt rigorous screening and testing for all passengers from South Africa and other ‘at risk’ countries.
‘This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutation, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel’, health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a letter to states late on Thursday.
But India’s civil aviation ministry said it had decided to let airlines resume scheduled international flights from Dec.15, lifting a nearly two – year – old ban imposed to stem the spread of COVID – 19.
The resumption of flights would be based on the coronavirus risk levels of individual countries, according to a formal government order.
Some countries in Europe and Asia have rushed to tighten border control and restrict travel because of the new variant.
India’s foreign ministry said there was no immediate information on steps the government was taking.
‘This is a developing incident’, foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi told a news conference.
The federal health ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for futher comment.
On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency said the new variant has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based and could make existing vaccines less effective.