National carrier Air India has been banned by Hong Kong authorities from flying into Hong Kong airport for two weeks, August 18-31, reportedly for “carrying too many passengers infected with Covid19”. Air India operates flights to Hong Kong under the Vande Bharat Mission and was scheduled to operate special flights from Delhi on August 18, August 21, August 25 and August 28.
An Air India official confirmed that the Hong Kong authorities had banned flights for two weeks but did not detail the reasons for the restrictions. The official said the airline would initiate talks with the Hong Kong authorities for lifting the suspension.
According to a report by South China Morning Post, the ban came after 11 passengers tested positive for Covid upon landing in Hong Kong from Delhi on August 14. “The fact 11 passengers tested positive on the same flight shows the lab tests back in India are not very reliable…The airline has to do deep cleaning (on its planes) and make sure it won’t happen again on future flights before they can be resumed,” the report said, quoting an unnamed Hong Kong government source.
It said the Prevention and Control of Disease (Regulation of Cross-boundary Conveyances and Travellers) Regulation was invoked to suspend Air India’s flights for two weeks.
To specific queries on the August 14 flight and 11 passengers testing positive, an Air India spokesperson said the airline would not like to comment.
On Monday, Air India posted on Twitter: “Due to restrictions imposed by Hong Kong Authorities,
AI 310/315, Delhi – Hong Kong – Delhi of 18th August 2020 stands postponed. Next update in this regard will be intimated soon. Passengers may please contact Air India Customer Care for assistance.”
Last month, the Ministry of Civil Aviation ran into a wall on its proposal for establishing an air bubble arrangement with Hong Kong. The ministry said Air India had applied to operate flights to Hong Kong but the Hong Kong authorities continued to prohibit flights from India.
“Civil aviation access is a matter of reciprocal bilateral arrangements. As far as flights to and from Hong Kong are concerned, the problem is that HK is not allowing flights from certain places of origin including India. Air India has applied for permission with the authorities,” the ministry had said.
The move by Hong Kong to restrict Air India’s flights could potentially impact the airline’s access to countries it operates in. Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said Tuesday India was negotiating with 13 countries including Australia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Israel, Russia, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea, to establish air transport bubbles.
At present, India has such transport arrangements with the US, the UK, France, Germany, the UAE and Maldives.
With 55,079 fresh cases and 876 deaths, India Tuesday recorded its highest-ever number of tests in the last 24 hours – a little more than 8,99,000, according to the union health ministry. The Covid tally in India on Tuesday rose to over 27 lakh, including 51,797 deaths.
According to data by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Air India (along with its subsidiaries) has operated 1,866 outbound flights under the Vande Bharat Mission carrying more than 1.5 lakh passengers on these flights.