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NEW DELHI : India on Friday said scheduled international flights will be allowed to resume from 15 December, but with graded restrictions because of the threat still posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) came as countries around the world rushed to take precautionary measures after scientists said they had found a highly virulent and possibly vaccine-resistant variant of the covid-19 virus in South Africa.

The UK said the variant was the most significant one found yet after banning flights from six southern African countries—South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the EU also aimed to halt air travel from the region, describing the variant in a tweet as “of concern".

India had suspended international flight operations from 23 March 2020. The suspension, extended periodically, currently stands enforced till 30 November.

“The matter has been reviewed, and the competent authority has decided to resume the scheduled commercial international passenger services to/from India with effect from 15 December 2021," DGCA said.

“Resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services with effect from 15 December 2021 would imply reversion to bilaterally agreed capacity entitlements and termination of air bubble arrangements. However, due to prevailing covid-19 situation, the capacity entitlements shall be as per the category of countries based on the enlistment of countries," it added.

India currently has air bubble agreements with as many as 30 countries—from Afghanistan and Bangladesh to Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the UAE, UK and US.

DGCA said capacity entitlements—how many flights are allowed—will depend on the countries and the risk perception assigned to them by the health ministry.

Carriers from countries listed by the health ministry as a ‘risk’ and with whom India already has air bubble agreements will be allowed to operate 75% of pre covid capacity “or a minimum of seven frequencies per week, subject to availability of entitlements under the bilateral agreement(s)".

Carriers from countries listed as a ‘risk’ but with whom India doesn’t have an air bubble agreement will be allowed to operate “50% of pre-covid capacity or 50% of bilateral capacity entitlements, or whichever is higher".

The same restrictions will apply to Indian carriers flying to these countries.

Carriers from countries labelled not at risk and Indian carriers operating to these countries will be able operate to full capacity as per the bilateral air service agreements.

A copy of the circular has been reviewed by Mint.

“The seats under air bubble arrangement which have already been sold by airlines, which are in excess of the capacity entitlements under bilateral ASA/traffic rights available with the airlines, will be allowed to be operated till 14.12.2021. Such airlines will restrict their operations to capacity entitlements under bilateral ASAs/traffic rights available with the airlines, with effect from 15.12.2021," the DGCA circular said.

“All services shall be subject to strict adherence to MoHFW’s (ministry of health) guidelines for international travel dated 11.11.2021 as amended from time to time and instructions issued by the ministry of civil aviation for international travel," it added.

Meanwhile, passengers arriving from at least 12 countries— ‘countries at-risk’—will need to follow additional measures on arrival in India, including testing, according to a ​separate circular issued by the civil aviation ministry.

These include countries in Europe, including the UK, and others like South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, Israel.

At present, several European countries, including Austria and Germany, are seeing a fresh wave of covid-19 infections.

Reuters contributed to the story

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