UAE stretches India travel ban further, but falling Covid rates hold out hope

The extended flight ban would not only hurt Indian expatriate workers in the UAE but severely hit the tourism industry as well

UAE stretches India travel ban further, but falling Covid rates hold out hope
Emirates planes lined up at the Dubai airport. Image courtesy: Twitter/@DXB

The UAE has extended the suspension of flights from Covid-ravaged India till June 30. The travel ban, which was imposed in April and periodically extended, was earlier supposed to stay in place till June 14. 

This decision was taken on May 30 as a fast-spreading mutant strain of the coronavirus wreaks havoc in India.  

"Our flights from India have been cancelled till the 30th of June, which may be extended," the Abu Dhabi-based airline behemoth Etihad said in a reply to a query on Twitter. The significant part of the reply is that the ban may be extended. 

"Emirates has suspended passenger flights from India effective 24 April 2021 until 30 June 2021," another global giant, the Dubai-based Emirates said on its website.

Cargo flights, however, would continue to operate in both directions without any impact. Also, Etihad will continue to operate flights to India, carrying passengers both from its network and from Abu Dhabi, the airline said on its website.

This travel ban has already severely inconvenienced the Indian community in the UAE who are close to 3.5 million (30% of the population) in number, making up the largest ethnic community in the UAE. A sizeable number of Indians, especially from Kerala, had gone to the UAE and elsewhere in the Middle East in search of work. With Bahrain, which many have been using as a transit point, itself banning flyers from India, non-resident Indians (NRIs), especially those working in the UAE are faced with double trouble. 

An exception to this rule has been made for UAE nationals, members of diplomatic missions, holders of UAE golden visa, passengers exempted and/or granted permission to enter the UAE by the appropriate authorities as well as passengers travelling on business flights with valid Covid-19 PCR test certificates.

Also read: As UAE extends India flight ban, Bahrain puts NRIs in bigger trouble

Etihad said on its website that passengers who had been in India in the past 14 days would not be allowed to enter and transit Abu Dhabi. This would not apply to UAE nationals, passengers with diplomatic or official passports travelling on duty and golden visa holders.

Emirates said that passengers who have travelled from or transited through India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the past 14 days would not be permitted to travel to or transfer through Dubai or any other point. This restriction, however, does not apply to UAE nationals, holders of UAE golden visas and members of diplomatic missions who comply with the revised published Covid-19 protocols, Emirates said.   

An Air India plane at the Dubai airport. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Flickr/Aeroprints.com

The airline added that the passengers exempted from the travel ban would have to furnish a valid Covid-19 PCR test certificate issued within 48 hours of sample collection and scheduled flight departure. Only QR code-linked PCR test reports from certified laboratories would be accepted.

Passengers would have to sign an indemnity document for a 10-day quarantine at home or hotel, Emirates said, adding that flyers would also have to undergo PCR testing on arrival in Dubai, followed by two other PCR tests on the fourth and eighth days of their quarantine period. Passengers also need to download the Dubai airport Covid app upon arrival at the airport and provide all the required information.  

The extension of travel restrictions by the UAE is expected to adversely affect the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) repatriation flights and air bubble flights that had served to keep international air travel between India and the rest of the world going at a time when India continues to ban scheduled commercial international passenger flights. In a circular dated May 28, the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) stretched the ban on regular international air travel till June 30.

The UAE has decided to suspend all flights to/from India with effect from May 4, 2021, until further notice, India's flag carrier Air India said in a tweet reply. The UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) announced the decision on May 4 under which passengers on all flights on national and foreign carriers from India, and also transit passengers coming from India would be prevented to enter the UAE, according to a Gulf News report.  

Also read: UAE bans flyers from Covid-ravaged India indefinitely; Kerala migrants worst-hit

The Covid situation is, however, on the mend in India. The country had reported more than four lakh daily cases at the height of the second Covid wave in the early part of May, which had shocked and alarmed the entire world. But according to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) data on June 3, India has now reported less than two lakh daily cases for seven days in a row. Daily recoveries continued to outnumber daily new cases for the 21st day, and the recovery rate climbed to 92.79%. India's active cases fell by 80,232 in the past 24 hours. On June 1, India had reported its lowest daily new cases in 54 days, with a figure of 1.27 lakh. Active cases on June 1 fell below 20 lakh after 43 days.      

The UAE reported 2,154 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking its cumulative cases to 5,74,958, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The number of deaths, however, continue to remain very small in relation to the total number of cases. The UAE registered just two Covid deaths in the past 24 hours. 

Would the fast-improving Covid situation in India and the low numbers in the UAE convince the latter to accept travellers from India as earlier? Indeed, as it seemed India was gaining some degree of control over the pandemic towards the end of last year, authorities in Asian destinations, including Dubai, were looking to woo Indian travellers. "Destinations such as Dubai and Maldives have seen 100% growth in bookings in December compared to previous months," a SOTC spokesperson had told Live Mint.

There was a surge in demand for airline seats in December, fuelled by demand from holiday travellers from India to Dubai and as a result of festivals, and year-end travel by expatriate Indians from the Emirates to their home states. According to industry sources, several Indian carriers registered about 90% passenger load factor (PLF), besides increased airfares in December. With Covid vaccine rollout in India, airlines were looking to do brisk business and Etihad offered attractive deals.

One hopes flyers from India can travel without hassles to the UAE sooner rather than later. The extended flight ban would not only hurt Indian expatriate workers in the UAE but severely hit the tourism industry too.