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New COVID-19 strain Omicron forces UAE expats to cancel holiday plans to India

Reports of COVID-19's Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) have thrown a spanner in the works for many UAE holidaymakers planning a trip home to India this winter.

Travel agents here told reporters that UAE expatriates are now reconsidering their travel plans abroad during the upcoming National Day and winter holidays due to fears over the Omicron virus.

"Starting this weekend, enquiries have dipped suddenly. We even had a few cancellations this morning owing to the fears," said Adeel S., a travel operator in Dubai's Deira district while explaining how until last week bookings at his small shop were happening in "full swing".

Sharjah-based travel agent Md. Jamal said he had received at least a dozen calls until Sunday evening from residents and visitors enquiring about travel restrictions.
"Many, a majority from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have been asking whether about flights. We are yet to hear from authorities so it is business as usual for us but I have been asking travellers to exercise caution and discretion while planning trips. That's been the case anyway during these testing times of Covid," he said.

Meanwhile resident expats say they are now unsure of their immediate travel plans.

"I was planning to go visit my hometown this winter and then get my dad along after a month. Now I am not feeling that confident anymore of doing the same," said Vikram Choudhury, a Dubai-based banker who was scheduled to fly to Kolkata within weeks on annual leave.

Meanwhile, travellers headed to Kerala from the UAE will not be required to undergo mandatory quarantine for seven days.

Kerala Health Minister Veena George announced on Saturday that Kerala has adopted several preventive measures to combat the spread of Covid-19's Omicron variant. As part of those steps, Kerala will impose mandatory quarantine and other stringent travel protocols only on travellers arriving from countries designated to be "at risk" by the Indian government. European countries, including the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Israel are the countries currently on India's red list.

According to the most recent Indian guidelines, issued on Friday, all passengers travelling to India will still have to undergo an RT-PCR test 72 hours before flying and are required to upload it on the Air Suvidha portal.

Meanwhile, Indian airlines in the UAE say they are yet to receive any intimation from the Indian government regarding updated quarantine regulations.

From mid-November to early January, ticket prices from UAE to Kerala have been sky high, especially for travel dates around Christmas and the New Year.

The UAE late Friday night announced the suspension of entry for travellers and transit passengers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, effective from Monday, November 29.

UAE nationals, diplomatic missions, official delegations between UAE and the seven countries and golden residence holders are the only exceptions to this rule.