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India will keep its ban on scheduled international passenger flights till 31 January in the wake of emerging threat from the Omicron variant, aviation regulator DGCA said on Thursday.

In partial modification to the earlier order, it has been decided to extend the suspend the scheduled international commercial passenger flights to and from India till 31 January, DGCA said in a statement.

However, the restrictions will not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights specially approved by the regulator.

International scheduled flights may also be allowed on select routes on a case to case basis.

The scheduled international flights were supposed to start from 15 December, but keeping in view the nature of Omicron variant, the government has decided to hold the plan.

"In the 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 and an appropriate decision indicating the effective date of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services will be notified in due course," DGCA has said earlier.

India had suspended international flights from 23 March 2020 amid coronavirus pandemic. However, special international passenger flights have been operating since July last year under air bubble arrangements formed with approximately 28 countries.

Under an air-bubble pact between two countries, special international flights can be operated by their airlines between their territories with specific restrictions.

India has formed air bubble pacts with around 32 countries including the US, the UK, the UAE, Kenya, Bhutan and France. 

On the domestic front, air passenger traffic rose marginally in the week ended 27 November amid a revival in travel sentiment during India's festival season.

Domestic air passenger traffic has seen significant growth since June, with the easing of lockdown restrictions following a steady decline in fresh covid-19 cases, giving more people to confidence to undertake travel.

First detected in southern Africa weeks ago, Omicron is known to have spread to over 57 countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) expects the number to continue growing.

The government has released a list of at-risk countries that include Hong Kong and Israel where travellers would need to follow additional measures on arrival in India.

Earlier today, the government has removed Singapore from its list of "at-risk" nations and travellers arriving from there need to take additional measures on arrival including post-arrival testing for Covid-19 especially the new Omicron variant.

The current list of "at-risk" countries for Covid-19 Omicron variant includes the United Kingdom, other countries in Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Ghana, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Hong Kong and Israel.

Uncertainty about the new variant has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from the two-year-old pandemic.

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