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Omicron cases lead India's leading airports to issue updated guidelines for all arrivals. Demand on the sector has dipped as a result, and so have ticket rates. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Flight bookings to and from India could drop after leading airports in the country adopted new COVID-19 related guidelines for all passengers.

Delhi and Mumbai – the biggest air hubs in India – have announced revised guidelines for passenger arrivals due to a spike in Omicron cases. “New bookings have slowed and families seem reluctant to travel with the new Covid rules, it is too much of a hassle for them,” said a spokesperson for Regal Tours in Dubai.

Ticket rates on UAE to India flights have dropped, with prices for Delhi and Mumbai available for Dh400-Dh500 compared to Dh1,000-Dh2,000 just weeks ago.

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New travel rules

For arrivals at Mumbai airport

* All passengers who are resident of Mumbai will compulsorily undergo 7 days of home quarantine after arriving in Mumbai.

* They will need to perform an RT PCR test on the 7th day and if negative the traveller will self monitor for further 7 days.

* If the test turns up positive, passengers will be shifted to an institutional quarantine facility as per current guidelines for international travellers.

* Travellers connecting to other states will be allowed to take connecting flights.

For arrivals at New Delhi

* Passengers must book their flight at least 24 hours in advance and include all compulsory information – this is required by the Indian embassy.

* Take a PCR test at any accredited medical facility a maximum of 72 hours before flight departure time. Children under five are exempt from testing unless they have symptoms of COVID-19.

* All passengers who are required to take an on arrival test must pre book their COVID-19 PCR test while filling up their self-declaration form (SDF) under the Air Suvidha section.

Business travel hit

The new measures will hit the flow of tourists between the two countries and eat into any business travel.

“The seven-day home quarantine for passengers arriving in Mumbai is not only going to impact leisure travel but also almost certain kill any business travel that may have started to return,” said Vinamra Longani, head of operations at Sarin & Co, a law firm specialising in aircraft leasing and finance.

“As matters pertaining to public health fall under the purview of the respective state governments in India, they are within their right to add to - or dilute - guidelines issued in light of Covid for international passengers by the Government of India.”

With these latest restrictions, the chances of resumption of normal commercial flights seem even more bleak now. “India had announced the resumption of scheduled international operations - this was to be done in a calibrated manner depending on the Covid situation in the respective countries,” said Longani.

Putting an end to the ‘bubble’ arrangement would have allowed UAE airlines to operate at 100 per cent pre-Covid capacity and significantly brought down fares on the route. “This plan had to be canned due to Omicron and as it stands there is no clarity on when scheduled flights would resume,” said Longani.

Cases surge

As of Wednesday, the total count of the Omicron variant had reached 781 in India. The variant of concern, which was first detected in South Africa in November, has now spread to 21 states in the country. Delhi has the highest Omicron count with 238 cases, followed by Maharashtra with 167 cases.

Passengers respond

While certain sections of the media and government have lauded the states for taking timely action, passengers do not share the same enthusiasm.

“Once again Mumbai BMC and the city’s 3 or 2-star hotels will start making money,” said a user on Facebook. “They will make stalls inside Mumbai airport to get passengers arriving from other countries - all monkey business in the name of the new coronavirus variant.”

Saransh Goila, a Mumbai-based celebrity chef, was put through hell and high water after testing positive recently. “What followed after my Covid positive report was a roller-coaster ride,” said Goila in an Instagram post. “I was made to shift from home quarantine to institutional quarantine to a hospital.

“It's not my choice of recovery spot as nothing comes close to home, but I'm recovering - I'm just waiting to go home to meet my family and cats,” said Goila, who has 559,000 followers on the social media platform.