Experts fear further rise in infections as winter approaches
The air connectivity between Bangladesh and India was resumed under the “air bubble” arrangement on Wednesday, after over seven months of flight suspension to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
It was a private airline that initiated the flight resumption and Biman, the national flag carrier airline, is also set to operate its flights to India starting from Thursday.
Meanwhile, experts in public health and aviation sectors fear that the move may cause a surge in the coronavirus infection rate in Bangladesh as India has one of the highest test positivity rates in the world.
The first resumption flight between the two countries began as a US-Bangla Airlines regular commercial flight from Dhaka to Kolkata took off from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at 9:45am on Wednesday.
Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram K Doraiswami, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab) Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman, and US-Bangla Airlines CEO Capt Sikdar Meshba Uddin Ahmed were present at the airport to see off the Kolkata bound passengers, said the airline's spokesperson.
The US-Bangla Airlines also operated a Dhaka-Chennai-Dhaka flight at 10:30 am on Wednesday with Biman set to resume its India operation through its New Delhi flight on Thursday.
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Air travel bubbles are temporary arrangements between two countries aimed at restarting commercial passenger flight services while regular international flights are suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Public health expert Dr Taufique Joarder said there is always a risk in restoring communication with a country that is still bearing the brunt of the pandemic.
“India being one of the worst-hit countries is automatically a great concern for us,” he said, adding that the flight resumption decision should have been taken on a scientific basis.
However, mandatory Covid-19 tests can help prevent the spread of coronavirus, he opined.
Virologist Prof Nazrul Islam said proper screenings at the airports, along with compulsory tests 72 hours before the flights, may help fight the spread of the virus.
“We must maintain the mandatory health protocols too as international flights will gradually increase in the coming days”, he suggested.
Aviation expert Kazi Wahidul Alam said the move poses the risk of a further escalation in coronavirus infections.
Considering the possible second wave of the pandemic in the country in the winter, the resumption of flights with India may turn out to be dangerous, he added.
Fearing that the coronavirus situation in Bangladesh may worsen if India starts issuing tourist visas, he said that the flights will be handy for patients and businessmen nonetheless.
Apart from the Delhi route, Biman Bangladesh Airlines will resume its flight to Kolkata and Chennai from November 1 and November 15 respectively, a press release of the airlines said.
The US-Bangla Airlines will operate flights to Kolkata six days a week except Monday and to Chennai for four days a week on every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, said the airline's spokesperson.
Novoair, another local airline, has taken necessary preparation to resume its Kolkata flight but a date is yet to be decided, an airlines official said.
The air bubble arrangement
India had already introduced an air bubble arrangement with countries like France, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and Maldives.
As per the air-bubble arrangement with Bangladesh, Biman, US-Bangla Airlines, and Novoair will initially operate 28 flights a week. Five Indian airlines — Air India, Vistara, IndiGo, SpiceJet, and GoAir — will also operate the same number of flights every week.
According to Caab, the five Indian airlines will operate flights on the Delhi-Dhaka-Delhi, Kolkata-Dhaka-Kolkata, Chennai-Dhaka-Chennai, and Mumbai-Dhaka-Mumbai routes.
On October 9, the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh announced the resumption of online visa application services for Bangladeshi citizens.
For now, visas will be provided in nine categories including medical, business, employment, journalists, diplomatic, personal, officials, UN officials, and UN diplomats, said the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh.