COVID-19: Why Omicron won’t disrupt my India travel plans

Abu DHabi: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC) has announced that UAE nationals with diplomatic, special and normal passports can now travel toTajikistan without pre-entry visas and for stays of up to 90 days for each visit.

The decision comes into effect on January 1, 2022.

Entry to Tajikistan for tourism is currently suspended because of the conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Khalid Abdullah Belhoul, Under-Secretary of MoFAIC, said the agreement reflects the strong ties between the UAE and the Republic of Tajikistan, that were founded on mutual understanding and respect and a will to bolster bilateral relations, to reflect the aspirations and visions of the leaderships of the two countries and serves common goals and interests.

Belhoul added that this step is part of MoFAIC’s diplomatic and consular efforts that aim to strengthen the UAE’s global position. 

He stressed that providing distinguished consular services to ensure the happiness of Emiratis is one of the Ministry’s strategic goals, in accordance with the directives of the wise leadership to provide all means of care and happiness to UAE nationals around the world.

Abu Dhabi: The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) has announced a further update to the ‘Green List’ of countries for inbound travel into Abu Dhabi. The update is effective from December 26, 2021.

Passengers arriving from the updated ‘Green List’ destinations will be exempt from mandatory quarantine measures after landing in Abu Dhabi.

Travellers will be required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result, valid for a maximum of 48 hours before departure and undergo a PCR test upon arrival at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Vaccinated passengers from the updated ‘Green List’ will take another PCR test on day 6 (the day of arrival into Abu Dhabi is counted as day 1). Unvaccinated travellers arriving from the ‘Green List’ countries are required to take PCR tests on days 6 and 9.

The list is regularly updated based on international developments, and the DCT has said that inclusion on the list is subject to strict criteria of health and safety protocols for travel, ensuring and prioritising the well-being of the UAE community. The countries included on the ‘Green List’ have been given the green light for travel and refers to inbound travel origin, not citizenship of passenger.

Below is the updated ‘Green List’ as of December 26, 2021

Albania

Armenia

Australia

Austria

Azerbaijan

Bahrain

Belarus

Belgium

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Brazil

Bulgaria

Burma

Cambodia

Canada

China

Croatia

Cyprus

Czech Republic

Denmark

Finland

France

Georgia

Germany

Greece

Hong Kong (SAR)

Hungary

Indonesia

Iran

Iraq

Israel

Italy

Japan

Jordan

Kazakhstan

Kuwait

Kyrgyzstan

Laos

Latvia

Lebanon

Luxembourg

Malaysia

Maldives

Netherlands

Norway

Oman

Papua New Guinea

Philippines

Poland

Portugal

Qatar

Republic of Ireland

Romania

Russia

Saudi Arabia

Serbia

Singapore

Slovakia

Slovenia

South Korea

Spain

Sweden

Switzerland

Syria

Taiwan, Province of China

Tajikistan

Thailand

Yemen

Turkey

Turkmenistan

Ukraine

United Kingdom

United States of America

Uzbekistan

Ever since I read the historical novel, Raiders from the North, by Alex Rutherford, I always held a desire to visit Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan, the land of great Mughal emperor Babur who was crowned at the age of 12, and discover more about the rich cultural heritage of this magnificent country.

We are avid travellers and due to the current pandemic could not think of any other destination than The Republic of Uzbekistan, which has reported very few Covid cases. So, it was time to buckle up and fly to Tashkent, which is visa free for UAE residents.

Uzbekistan has a wealth of historical monuments, not least the towns of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand, which were the capitals of powerful kingdoms for many centuries. Shimmering minarets, curvaceous domes and mesmerising mosaics make the Uzbek cities of Samarkand and Bukhara grand.

Learn from mistakes and so did we and would suggest travellers about the MUST online booking of Afrosiyob Train [Bullet train] in advance or at the station prior to your journey as it is difficult to get tickets on the same day of travel. The only option left for us was to travel for six exhaustive hours to Bukhara in a normal train, Sharq but all the struggle and the tiredness paid off as soon as we stepped into the Silk route city Bukhara.

The Historic Centre of Bukhara, situated on the Silk Roads, is more than two thousand years old. It is one of the best examples of well-preserved Islamic cities of Central Asia of the 10th to 17th centuries. Important monuments that survive from early times include the famous Ismail Samanai tomb, Poi-Kalyan minaret, The Ulugbek medresseh, the Lyabi-Khauz ensemble, the Kosh Medresseh and the Gaukushon medresseh to name a few.

A lively atmosphere with tourists and locals makes night life in the city more enchanting. The Arc of Bukhara is another marvel of architecture and history, while the Water Tower Shukhova, built by a talented mathematician and brilliant engineer is also worth visiting. The best thing about Bukhara is that all the hotspots can be covered on foot.

Our next destination was Samarkand, which was covered by bullet train. One of the oldest cities in the world, Samarkand was founded around the 7th century BC. Poets and historians described the city as The Pearl of the Eastern Muslim World. Timur wasn’t only a great conqueror but also a great builder. He’s the man behind the greatest constructions in Samarkand, including the Bibi Khanym Mosque, Shah-i-Zinda, the Ulugh Beg madrasah at Registan, the Ulug Beg Observatory, and the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum.

All the main roads of Samarkand lead to Registan, one of the most beautiful squares of the world. It was used as a public square for royal proclamations, celebrations, and public executions. Our first glance of the awe-inspiring monument complex was at twilight. We just could not take our eyes off the stunning and enigmatic architectural marvel.

Our journey came to an end at Tashkent where I wanted to explore the Chimgan mountains, the ski resort and Charvak lake by car. The austere open chair car ride from Beldersoy to the snow-capped Chimgan mountains was thrilling and captivating.

The republic of Uzbekistan is least explored by travellers, but I highly recommend this country as a lifetime experience not only for its cultural and architectural glory but for its friendly, humble, and helpful people. Any visit to a country is incomplete without trying out its food delicacies, so be sure to taste the shashliks, herbs and other salads, variety of soups, lepyoshka bread, tandyr nan, patyr nan, pilaf and last but not the least local tea and coffee. Moreover in this Covid era, it is a hassle-free exercise to get all important documents be it PCR, air tickets and immigration formalities in Uzbekistan. All medical centres deliver PCR reports within six hours. Hotels, food and other amenities are reasonably priced.

With fond, cherishable and warm memories, we hereby end our Uzbekistan diary.

Christmas is around the corner. And the New Year too. This is travel season, and I’m travelling to India. A journey after two years. That’s true for many people whose travel plans have been put on hold due to COVID-19.

Call it revenge travel, as in revenge tourism in the aftermath of the global pandemic. Most people are headed for their home countries to share the festive joy with their family and friends. Besides Christmas and New Year, this is also the season of weddings and get-togethers.

Leave requests are filed, tickets are booked, and the countdown had begun. That’s when Omicron, the new coronavirus variant, announced its arrival to the world. What followed was panic, sheer panic. My anxiety was not fuelled by the threat posed by the mutant strain but at the thought that the travel plans could evaporate.

How Omicron impacts travel

When you haven’t travelled for two years or haven’t seen your loved ones for two years, such panic is bound to happen. Will the flights be scrapped? Will the borders remain open? Will I be able to return after the leave? Questions, numerous questions, race through my mind.

Unfortunately, there are no answers. On current evidence, there’s no reason to worry. The scant data on Omicron shows the infections so far have been mild, although the transmission rate in the Gauteng province of South Africa has been high. Is it high enough to ground the flights? The World Health Organisation doesn’t seem to think so, and it has been critical of the move to ban flights from countries in southern Africa.

The WHO’s stance may have stemmed from the thought that the flight ban is akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. All the cases that have surfaced worldwide must have been the result of infections from at least a week ago. Now, these cases will lead to local transmission. So what’s the point in banning international flights? Well, the WHO has a valid point.

More precautions and delays ahead

That gives me enough reason to be optimistic that the flights won’t be disrupted. But precautions will be ramped up at airports and other ports of entry. So brace for inordinate delays, and take adequate precautions throughout the trip.

Precautions, precautions, precautions. Nothing is too much, although experts dismiss the need to wear N95 masks; they say KN95 masks are good enough. Hand-washing or sanitising and social distancing are very effective in keeping the virus at bay. Social distancing may not be feasible on aircraft, but I will adhere to it whenever possible.

Read more

  • COVID-19: How Omicron will affect me and my daily life
  • COVID-19: Why the world is worried about new variant Omicron
  • Omicron could knock a fragile economic recovery off track
  • Omicron Variant: Seven ways India can keep a step ahead
  • Over-60s, vulnerable should postpone travel due to Omicron COVID-19 variant: WHO

The threat is not just from Omicron. Delta too is still around. So travel if you must, but be prudent with your visits. I certainly won’t be calling on the elderly, or friends and relatives with health conditions. That would be irresponsible. I might be alright, but I don’t want to carry germs that would put their lives in danger.

I’m going shopping next week for some gifts. Bags are to be packed. Then the PCR test followed by uploading the result and numerous forms to fill up. It’s a pain. But that pain is worth it when you travel after two years.

I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again, John Denver sang. I’ll be back in the New Year. What about you?

@ShyamKris_

Shyam A. Krishna is Senior Associate Editor at Gulf News. He writes on health and sport.

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