No one is safe, till everyone is vaccinated. This is a statement we have been hearing from medical experts and those leaders who have been championing IP waiver of Covid-19 vaccines. These prophetic words came true when South Africa declared last month that they have detected another more contagious variant of the virus, which the World Health Organisation (WHO), has dubbed the Omicron.
Alarmed by the new variant which epidemiologists claim to have around 50 mutations, the world started shutting its doors to South Africa and other countries in Southern Africa. This is unfortunate as the Omicron virus was detected by the efficient doctors in South Africa and they flagged off the variant so that the world can take notice and arrive at a solution. What they did not expect was that the world would close its doors to them.
This is the danger that domestic and inbound tourism will have to face as new strains of the virus emerges across the world. In its first reaction, the Indian government has suspended the resumption of regular flights which was scheduled for December 15th 2021. Instead, India will continue with bubble flights with 31 countries with whom we have agreements. This is 44 per cent of the capacity that was operated in December 2019. This has had an impact on airfares. Airfares are sky-high. Inbound tourists who visit India will find this very prohibitive and tour operators fear that this will lead to fewer bookings in the new year. Even the Russian charters which were scheduled to arrive in Goa from December 15th 2021 is now on hold.
On the domestic front, states have started reimposing restrictions whether it is pre-departure tests or attendance of large gatherings. Hoteliers claim that business has picked up quite well and the period from September to November 2021 was one of their best months since 2019. They expect the trend to continue into December as well. One of the reasons for it is with international flights curtailed and the fear of being stuck in an overseas destination has forced Indians to shift large weddings and conferences within India. The prohibitive airfares have also forced outbound travellers to holiday within India.
According to the WHO, we are not certain of the severity of the Omicron variant as so far no one has suffered a serious illness, unlike the Delta variant which still dominates the Covid-19 landscape in terms of hospitalisation and deaths.
We, in India, can hope that though we are recording cases of the Omicron variant, this do not go out of hand and emerge into a third wave. The best part is that half of India’s population eligible for vaccination have taken their two doses and we hope so that we end the year on a positive note and wish everyone a Happy New Year.