Alarmed over Covid cases doubling in 24 hours in Kolkata, the Bengal government on Thursday suspended all direct flights from the UK and other high-risk countries from January 3.
The state government also announced a mandatory Covid test for all international arrivals from non-at risk countries.
The COVID-19 situation in West Bengal deteriorated further as the state on Thursday registered 2,128 cases, with Kolkata alone accounting for 1,090 of them.
The positivity rate stood at a disturbing 5.47 per cent – a massive jump from Wednesday’s 2.84 per cent, a government bulletin said.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, meanwhile, said coronavirus-related restrictions could not be imposed everywhere as they may adversely impact the economy, as was the case after the onset of the pandemic.
Ms Banerjee said her government was reviewing the emerging situation “seriously” and hinted that a decision, however, could be made about imposing restrictions taking their impact on the economy into account.
State Home Secretary BP Gopalika wrote to the Union Civil Aviation ministry informing it about the decision to suspend flight operations due to the rising number of Omicron cases. West Bengal has so far reported 11 cases of the variant.
“In view of the rising number of Omicron cases globally as well as within the country, the state government has decided to temporarily and until further orders suspended all direct flights from the United Kingdom to Kolkata from January 3, 2022.
“Flights, which is from an at-risk country as notified by MOHFW, Government of India, will not be allowed in the state, and any NOCs which have been issued stand withdrawn,” he wrote.
All passengers from non-at-risk countries coming to West Bengal will have to undergo a test on arrival at their cost mandatorily, Mr Gopalika said.
“The airlines will randomly select 10 per cent of the passengers for the RT-PCR test, and the balance 90 per cent shall undergo Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) on arrival at the airport. Those found positive in the RAT test will have to further undergo RT-PCR tests as may be required by the health authorities,” he wrote.
The Centre on Thursday said India’s R naught value, which indicates the spread of COVID-19, stood at 1.22, warning that cases were increasing and not shrinking, as it highlighted that Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Karnataka and Gujarat were emerging as states and UTs of concern on the basis of weekly infections and positivity rate.
Covid cases in Kolkata are rising since the city is a transit point for those travelling on trains and flights, Mamata Banerjee said.
“Most Omicron cases are being detected among people coming from UK flights. It’s a fact that the Omicron carriers are coming via international flights. The Centre must decide on imposing restrictions on flights from countries where Omicron cases are high,” she had said hours before the state ordered a ban on flights.
“Let us assess the situation first. In the last two years, the business has gone down to zero. We will review the situation at schools and colleges. We will also assess if Omicron is spreading among kids. A decision will only be made after that,” she added.
Meanwhile, Mayor and state minister Firhad Hakim has convened a meeting with officials of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, police and the health department to identify micro-containment zones in order to stem the spread of the virus.