New Delhi: The Centre is considering a mechanism to allow air passengers who have got both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to travel within the country without a negative test report, senior government officials said on Monday.
Central ministries, including the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, are currently discussing the matter with various other stakeholders, they added.
Currently, a number of states, including Odisha, Meghalaya and Maharashtra, ask passengers coming from outside to carry a Covid-negative report with them wherein the test sample was taken not more than 72 hours before the journey.
Domestic airlines, which have already taken a major hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have told the civil aviation ministry that such state-level requirements are hampering the growth of air travel and the fully-vaccinated passengers should be allowed to travel without Covid-negative reports, the officials said.
Domestic air travel had reached around three lakh passengers per day by the end of February. However, the second wave of the pandemic has reduced it to around 85,000 passengers per day.
To conserve cash and survive this tough time, all Indian airlines have taken measures such as cutting the employees’ salaries, firing employees and renegotiating leases with aircraft lessors.
Since health is a state subject, the Centre is discussing with the states a way through which domestic air passengers, who have got both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, can be allowed to travel without the test reports, the officials said.
The Centre is also in talks with other aviation stakeholders such as airlines, airports etc. on how it can be done, they added.
While the government is considering allowing domestic air travel without Covid test reports for those who have got both doses of the vaccine, it has opposed a similar measure for international travel.
At a G7 meeting of health ministers on June 4, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan expressed India’s “concern and strong opposition” to allow vaccine passports for international travel at this juncture of the pandemic.
“With vaccine coverage as a percentage of population in developing countries still low compared to developed countries, such an initiative could prove to be highly discriminatory,” he said.
Meanwhile, on May 28, the airlines were asked by the Centre to operate only 50 per cent of their pre-Covid domestic flights from June 1, instead of 80 per cent permitted earlier.
The decision was taken “in view of the sudden surge in the number of active COVID-19 cases across the country, decrease in passenger traffic and passenger load factor (occupancy rate)”, the civil aviation ministry said in an order.
When the government resumed the scheduled domestic flight operations in the country on May 25 last year after a two-month break, the ministry had permitted the carriers to operate not more than 33 per cent of their pre-Covid domestic services.
This cap was gradually increased to 80 per cent by December last year.