International passenger flights to and from India will remain suspended till January 31, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation announced on Thursday, amid concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The restrictions will not apply to flights specifically approved by the aviation watchdog and international all-cargo operations. International scheduled flights on selected routes may be allowed on a case-to-case basis.

On November 26, the aviation regulator had decided to resume scheduled commercial international passenger flights from December 15, but had decided to roll back the decision in view of the Omicron variant.

The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa in November, and since then, has spread to 57 countries. India has detected 23 cases of the strain so far.

Concerns that the Omicron variant spreads rapidly has forced countries to introduce tougher travel rules for international passengers. India has stepped up monitoring of passengers from South Africa and several other “at-risk” countries.

India had suspended both domestic and international flights at the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020.

However, since June 2020, the government allowed limited operations of Air India flights under the “Vande Bharat” mission for certain categories like Overseas Citizenship of India, Persons of Indian Origin card-holders and other Indians who were stuck abroad due to the pandemic.

Subsequently, restrictions were eased in a phased manner as India entered into air bubble agreements with several countries. Under a bilateral air bubble agreement, both countries can operate to and fro flights with some restrictions. As of November 22, India has air bubble agreements with 31 countries.