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The New Omicron Variant And Its Impact On Your Travel Plans

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This article has been medically reviewed and fact-checked by Dr Nikita Toshi.

The year 2021 began with one of the largest vaccination drives in the world right here in India. COVID-19 vaccinations in India were conducted in several phases which began on 16th January this year and helped to dramatically reduce the number of new and active cases within the country. Currently, 128 Crore people in India have been partially vaccinated while 47.7 Crore have been fully vaccinated with two doses. However, the emergence of the new Omicron variant has led to ambiguities about the efficacy of these vaccines.

The Omicron variant is the latest mutation of the Sars-CoV-2 (or the COVID-19) and this strain (B.1.1.529) has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Variant of Concern (VOC).[1] The WHO has released limited guidelines regarding the Omicron variant that state that there may be an increased chance of re-infection even for those who have developed natural antibodies and/or have been fully vaccinated.[2]

International travel guidelines

Since there is very little research on the transmissibility and effects of the new Omicron variant, the Government of India has revised the COVID-19 travel guidelines for international travellers. Although there has not yet been any flight ban due to the Omicron virus issued by the Indian government, some new guidelines for international travellers coming to India have been imposed. 

  • Submit Negative RT-PCR Report

All international passengers (whether vaccinated or unvaccinated) will have to submit a negative RT-PCR report that cannot be older than 72 hours before the date of travel. 

  • Self-Declaration

Along with submitting a recent RT-PCR report, passengers now also need to submit a self-declaration on the Air Suvidha portal. This will verify the authenticity of your report and if found otherwise, the person can be liable to criminal prosecution.

  • Compulsory RT-PCR Testing

The new guidelines have made testing mandatory for passengers coming from COVID ‘at-risk’ countries like South Africa, Brazil, the UK, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.

  • Random Testing

The airports have also been directed to randomly select 2% of all passengers coming from countries that have not reported incidents of the Omicron variant, for RT-PCR testing. Those who do not test positive are advised 7 days of quarantine and self-monitoring of health upon arrival, while those who test positive, will be isolated.

  • Compulsory Isolation

International passengers who are found to receive positive results after the RT-PCR testing at airports will be sent to mandatory isolation. Their samples will be sent to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) laboratories for further testing. 

  • Exemptions

Although the rules of RT-PCR testing are the same for all international travellers, there may be exemptions for certain types of international travellers. For example, if you are travelling from a ‘not-at-risk country’ and have only a transit (without leaving immigration) in an ‘at-risk’ country before taking your destination flight, you can be exempted from RT-PCR testing upon arrival.

Also Read: Precautions to Take Against Omicron Variant

Domestic travel guidelines

Several Indian states have also revamped domestic travel restrictions in the wake of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. Here is everything you need to know about domestic travel restrictions with regard to the Omicron variant.

  • RT-PCR Tests

Most states in India still require you to produce a negative RT-PCR test result that is between 24 to 96 hours old. The exact time frame and guidelines vary from state to state. 

  • Institutional Quarantine 

In some Indian states, institutional quarantine has been imposed for domestic passengers as well. The state of Maharashtra has declared that all high-risk domestic passengers need to undergo a compulsory RT-PCR test at the airport. If the result of this test is positive, then the passenger will be transferred to a hospital to be kept in institutional quarantine for 7 days.

Travel Ban

During the spread of the Delta and the Delta Plus variants of COVID-19, several countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, the Philippines and Canada, had placed travel bans on Indian travellers. However, most of these bans had been lifted following the hugely successful mass immunization in India. 

Also Read: Omicron Vs Other Variants

What Next?

While the new variants may be concerning to both doctors and scientists, it is always advisable to get vaccinated because it does provide a reasonable degree of protection. Keep handy your vaccination certificates while travelling and avoid travel plans if not urgent. Apart from that, you can always eat healthily and stay active to maintain a strong immune system which can also help prevent the contraction of diseases and other viral infections induced by season change. It is also important to strictly adhere to COVID related safety practices.

Also Read: Omicron Variant: Latest News and Updates

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

References

  1. https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/FAQsonOmicron.pdf
  2. https://www.who.int/news/item/26-11-2021-classification-of-omicron-(b.1.1.529)-sars-cov-2-variant-of-concern

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