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Etihad airways Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Flights from India to the UAE have been suspended until July 21 by UAE authorities, Etihad airways said on its website on Tuesday.

"Etihad will not be permitted to carry passengers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or India, however UAE nationals, diplomatic missions, official delegations and Golden residence holders are exempted from the UAE entry restriction," said an airline spokesperson.

These passengers will be subject to acceptance and quarantine conditions.

Etihad will continue to operate flights to all four countries, carrying passengers from across the Etihad network. Travel into Sri Lanka is not permitted from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, however, passengers may transit through these countries from other permitted origins.

Cargo flights will continue to operate in both directions without any impact.

Etihad said it was working closely with impacted guests to notify them of the changes to their itineraries.

GCAA notice

Last week, UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, in a Notice Issued to Airmen (NOTAM), said flights from India and 13 other countries, including Liberia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic Of Congo, Uganda, Zambia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and South Africa, will remain suspended until 23:59 hours of July 21, 2021.

The notice stated that cargo flights as well as business and charter flights would be exempted from the restrictions.

Flights from Indian cities were expected to resume on June 23 after Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management said passengers from India with a valid residence visa who have received two doses of a UAE-approved vaccine, will be allowed to travel.

Starting from April 23, UAE suspended all inbound flights for national and international carriers coming from India due to the second-wave of the COVID-19 virus.

Delta variant

The decision to extend the flight ban has come as a surprise to many as India’s vaccination programme is finally on track after the country’s health establishments contended with a severe oxygen shortage for months. Recently, India achieved a milestone in its ongoing Covid-19 vaccination drive by overtaking the US in terms of total number of doses administered so far, securing highest position among top six countries of the world.

Some industry sources say the continued suspension could be attributed to the newly-discovered ‘Delta plus’ variant, which has been found in 12 states in India and has sparked real concerns of a third wave. The World Health Organisation says the latest variant spreads even faster and binds more easily to lung cells.

What we know about the coronavirus Delta variant?

The Delta strain is one of four “variants of concern” identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It has already spread to more than 80 countries and the WHO predicts it will become the dominant strain of Covid-19 worldwide. There is still little data available about whether the Delta variant causes more deaths.

Image Credit: Graphic News
Difference between Delta and Delta Plus variants
Delta plus (B.1.617.2.1/AY) is a variant of Delta, which is also treated as a variant of concern. The combination of features from other, earlier variance could make Delta plus adapt better to pull off an “immune escape”. Virologists consider Delta plus as highly infectious.

There’s a rising concern in some experts that Delta plus shows resistance against monoclonal antibodies therapy, too.

Delta plus has a mutation code K417N, which was first sequenced in the Beta (B.1.351) variant (first seen in South Africa). Because it also has all the other features of its predecessor Delta, it is seen us being a lot more transmissible, according to some scientists. The K417N mutation is within the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike proteins of the coronavirus.

What makes it not worth it is that this mutation is also found in the Beta variant of concern. Latest data show that the new variant is still low in India and delta is the dominant variant in the subcontinent at the moment.

There are several states that have reported seeing Delta plus in new cases: Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. Indian health experts are studying the potential transmissibility and severity of the delta plus.

Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta COVID-19 variants: How dangerous?

Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented globally. Information about the emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants and the small differences that set them apart are changing rapidly. Scientists are working to learn more about how easily they spread, how severe is the illness they may cause, and whether authorised vaccines will protect people against them. (Read more)

Why does India matter?

Thousands of Indians who came home from the UAE when travel restrictions were eased but are now stuck at home owing to new protocols having kicked in, are worried over their jobs and businesses, and in several cases about reuniting with families in the UAE.

Airlines are the biggest losers in the current scenario. As per IATA data from June 10, air ticket bookings to travel from UAE to the Indian subcontinent have plunged by 70 per cent since April 23 when the suspension of inbound flights from India was first announced. Meanwhile, international bookings to the region (from the whole world) declined 47 per cent during the same time period.

“The traffic flows from India and the Subcontinent over the Middle East and into Europe and beyond had been one of the great successes for carriers in the region,” said IATA Director-General Willie Walsh. “It's understandable that some restrictions have been put in place, but again, evidence shows that the situation is coming under control.”

India, which is UAE’s largest source market, represents a third of its passenger traffic. “India to UAE is a crucial and important market for all of us who are in aviation,” said Adel Ali, CEO of Air Arabia in an interview earlier.