New COVID-19 strain: Travellers in Oman in tight spot as borders close

Muscat: Muscat International Airport has gone back to a more or less deserted look, bar a few passengers for domestic flights. Oman has closed all its air, sea and land borders for a week from December 22, in the wake of the new strain of the COVID -19 virus reportedly found in parts of the UK as well as in South Africa.

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The entry/exit points in Oman are open only for cargo carriers, by air, sea or land. As the news of border closure broke, a pall of gloom descended especially among those who had undergone pre-departure PCR tests over the past couple of days, in preparation to board their flights. With the holiday season around the corner, coupled with the news of the arrival of vaccine and the new visa exemption rules, there were palpable good vibes around.

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The precaution of closing borders was nevertheless hailed by a vast majority of respondents who felt it is better to be safe than sorry.

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Landmark announcement

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Priya Ilango, who had booked her ticket to go to Mumbai with her son, said everything had seemed to be falling in place. “The amnesty announcement waiving off fines was a major boost to the morale of so many who were stuck for no fault of theirs. Then came the ruling about Oman opening visa free entry for 103 countries, which again was a landmark announcement.

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“I was planning to go to Mumbai and come back after a week, using the new visa rule. Since I am also a Canadian passport holder, I fulfil the additional conditions as well. But now, the new strain of coronavirus and the closure of flights by many countries, have slammed the brakes. On the brighter side, we have the vaccine now.”

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Passengers who were booked to travel are now in a quandary if to proceed with the travel, or to cancel. The pre-departure PCR test that is to be taken not less than 96-hours prior to travel date, was taken by many even on the day the announcement was made about closure of entry points. The test, which costs between RO19 to RO 30, depending on where it is taken, is not a light burden on passengers.

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With the closure also comes the additional expense of taking a second test once the borders open for those who prefer to proceed with their travel plans. The extended time-frame taken for refunds by the airlines have resulted in further frustration among passengers, vast majority preferred rebooking to a different date than cancelling the booked trip.

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