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Could India’s third wave spark travel bans for Indian international students?

India travel bans
Will major study abroad destinations place India travel bans on the country's students? Here's what we know. Source: Arun Sankar / AFP

India is currently going through its third COVID-19 wave, sparking concerns that popular study abroad destinations could place India travel bans on the country’s international students.

“India is clearly in the third wave of COVID-19, and the whole thing seems driven by Omicron,” Dr. N. K. Arora, chairman of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, was quoted saying by reports.

The country has detected 1,892 Omicron cases, but Arora said that the new variant is likely to account for around 50% of the new COVID cases in urban areas, overtaking Delta as the dominant variant. So, will India travel bans come into action? Here’s what we know:

india travel bans

Previously, leading study abroad destinations including the UK and Canada placed India travel bans when incoming travellers from the country was deemed risky. Source: Punit Paranjpe/AFP

India travel bans: What we know

Previously, countries such as the UK and Canada have imposed India travel bans over fears of the Delta variant. The UK started its ban on India on April 19, 2021, while Canada’s was on April 22, 2021. 

The UK’s “traffic light” system determines a country’s status as red, amber, or green, each of which entails different rules, and terms for travel and quarantine — determined by the daily case numbers. The UK changed India’s status from red to amber on Aug. 8, 2021 — while Canada took five months, lifting its India travel ban on Sept. 27, 2021.

“Following the peak of India’s second COVID-19 wave in May, pressure on the Indian healthcare system has lifted, as the number of COVID-19 cases has fallen,” said the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office update on Aug. 8, 2021.

Canada didn’t have an explanation about why they lifted the travel ban but the Canadian government said in a release: “As of September 27, 2021, direct flights from India to Canada will resume.”

india travel bans

As of Jan. 5, 2022, India’s COVID-19 cases have rising rapidly, sparking concerns about possible India travel bans. Source: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP

As of Jan. 5, 2022, India’s COVID-19 cases have been on a rapid rise and there are no signs of it dropping anytime soon. However, India’s central government has advised all states to reactivate their COVID war rooms and strengthen their health infrastructure, particularly around oxygen supply and hospital bed capacity.

Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at the World Health Organisation, warned that “India could have a big surge. The next two weeks will tell us.”

While Omicron cases are surging across India, there have been no India travel bans announced by the UK or Canada. Over in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said: “If you are a non-US citizen, non-US immigrant and not fully vaccinated, you will not be allowed to enter the US. Only limited exceptions apply to the requirement to show proof of vaccination.”

At the time of writing, the UK government said on its website that there are currently no countries or territories on the red list for travel to England. “We keep the red list under constant review and countries and territories can be added to the red list at any time,” it said.

Canada implements travel bans on any countries that are high-risk or in the case of Omicron, highly concerning variants according to advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada.