UAE's flight ban extension despite India's improving Covid situation draws flak

On June 9, India recorded less than one lakh daily new Covid cases for the second day in a row

UAE's flight ban extension despite India's improving Covid situation draws flak
An Air India Express flight at Dubai airport. Image courtesy: Twitter/@DXBMediaOffice

The UAE has again extended the ban on passenger flights from India, this time till July 6, 2021. Air India Express, a subsidiary of India's flag carrier Air India, tweeted on June 8 that the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) had suspended all inbound passenger movement to the UAE from India (excluding UAE nationals) till July 6. 

"Passengers who booked to fly with us during this period can reschedule their tickets for travel at a future date," Air India Express, which connects India with mainly the Gulf and South East Asia, said.

UAE airline giants Emirates and Etihad did not confirm this immediately. The Dubai-based Emirates, however, updated its website subsequently to say, "Emirates has suspended passenger flights from India effective 24 April 2021 until 6 July 2021." 

The Abu Dhabi-based Etihad says, "Flights from India to the UAE are currently suspended until further notice." It adds, "Following the latest UAE government directives, the suspension of passenger travel from India to the UAE and Etihad's network has been extended. Etihad will not be permitted to carry passengers from India. However, UAE nationals, diplomatic passport holders and official passport holders or those holding an official delegation letter are exempted from the UAE entry restriction. These passengers will be subject to acceptance and quarantine conditions." 

Etihad said that it would continue to operate flights to India, carrying flyers both from its network and from Abu Dhabi. Cargo flights would also fly both ways without restrictions.

Air India Express has been actively involved in the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) repatriation launched by the Indian government in May last year.

The UAE had first imposed a ban on flyers from India, and even those who had transited through India in the previous 14 days, on April 25. The move was influenced by India being invaded by an alarming Covid wave, which saw the country reporting more than three lakh and then more than four lakh daily new cases of Covid in end-April and early May. The ban on flights from India has been periodically stretched by the UAE, and the previous extension was till June 30. A decision on this was taken on May 30 as a fast-spreading mutant strain of the coronavirus wreaked havoc in India.   

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 have been faced with double trouble. 

Also read: India quarantined! As Covid-19 wreaks havoc, these countries impose travel curbs

An exception to the flight ban was 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.

Air India Express flies connects India mainly to the Gulf and SE Asia. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Manojz Kumar

With the Covid situation markedly improving in India, this new extension on the flight ban by the UAE was met with considerable protest by the Indians eager to return to the UAE, for work or other purposes. Some Twitter users called upon the Indian authorities to take up the matter with their counterparts in the UAE. 

According to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) data, on June 9, India recorded less than one lakh daily new Covid cases for the second day in a row. India's active caseload continued on a downward trajectory and is below 20 lakh for the ninth consecutive day. Daily recoveries continued to outstrip daily new cases for the 27th day on the trot, and the overall recovery rate was logged at 94.55% and was showing an increasing trend. 

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

According to the provisional report on June 9, India has administered more than 24 crore vaccine doses so far. The vaccination drive entered the 145th day and a total of 31,31,759 vaccine doses were given on June 9.  

Here are some of the reactions to the UAE's India flight extension:

(This story was updated on June 12, 2021, to incorporate the positions of Emirates and Etihad.)