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Last flight from India lands at Heathrow ahead of new ‘red list’ curbs on travel from country

Lizzie Edmonds
·5-min read
<p></p> (PA)

The last scheduled flight from India to the UK has now arrived in to Heathrow ahead of the country being put on the travel “red list” as the Covid crisis esculates in the region.

From 4am on Friday morning, India will be on the “red list” for travel - effectively banning travel from the country in to the UK.

Only UK citizens, Irish nationals and people with residency arriving from India will be allowed in to the UK. They will have to stay in a government-approved quaratine hotel for ten days on arrival.

South Africa, Argentina and Brazil are among the countries already on the list.

It comes as Public Health England (PHE) confirmed on Thursday a further 55 cases of the India variant - known as B.1.617 - were found in the UK in the latest week to 14 April.

According to FlightRadar24, the Vistara flight VTI017 - the final scheduled commercial flight from India tonight - landed at London’s Heathrow Airport at 18:48pm.

Ahead of the rule change, four airlines applied to put on additional flights to meet demand - but they were refused permission. Heathrow bosses reportedly denied the requests to avoid chaotic scenes at the border.

Other flghts scheduled to land after the deadline were cancelled, the BBC reported.

Notices about a shortage of vaccinations are displayed in MumbaiREUTERS
Notices about a shortage of vaccinations are displayed in MumbaiREUTERS

Some travellers spoke to the BBC on arrival about their hectic return.

“Eventually, yesterday, a friend in the UK managed to book me a ticket from Mumbai to Manchester,” Biju Mathew, a social services manager from Walsall, said.

India was added to the “red list” in response to mounting concern about the number of coronavirus cases and the emergence of a new variant.

The country has seen the world’s highest number of daily recorded Covid cases - with 314,835 new infections recorded on Thursday. The staggering total eclipsed the previous one-day high of 300,669 set in the United States on January 8.

There was also 2,074 deaths recorded on Thursday - and on average 1,600 people have died every day for the past week.

Meanwhile, analysis by the Financial Times suggested the death toll could be much higher than what is being reported.

The country has also seen oxygen shortages and ambulances lined up outside hospitals as they are full and there are no ventilators for new patients.

A woman in India mounrs her husband following his death due to CovidREUTERS
A woman in India mounrs her husband following his death due to CovidREUTERS

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson put India on the travel red list on a “purely precautionary basis.” He said the variant was being examined by UK experts.

“What we’re seeing in India is a result of a variant under investigation, it hasn’t yet been deemed a variant of concern – I think that was why there has been the delay,” the Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference.

“I think what the JBC (Joint Biosecurity Centre) has decided is on a purely precautionary basis it’s necessary now to put India on the red list.

“I want to stress that even before that we have measures in place for everybody coming from India that are very, very tough indeed.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs: “We’ve recently seen a new variant first identified in India. We’ve now detected 103 cases of this variant, of which again the vast majority have links to international travel and have been picked up by our testing at the border.”

Mr Hancock said the samples have been analysed to see if the new variant has any “concerning characteristics” such as greater transmissibility or resistance to treatments and vaccines.

He added: “After studying the data, and on a precautionary basis, we’ve made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the red list.”

As his statement indicated, there was concern among some experts the move had come too late.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, former chief scientific adviser to the Government, told BBC Breakfast: “These decisions are almost inevitably taken a bit too late in truth, but what’s absolutely clear is that this variant is more transmissible in India.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also defended the delay in putting India on the travel list.

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He told Sky News: “It’s standard practise to give people a sort of short window in order to be able to manage their affairs. It’s the right approach to do, it’s the approach we’ve taken with other countries around the world when they’ve gone onto the red list.

“The Government continuously reviews the data, continues to review the information we’re getting from the scientific community in terms of what countries should be put onto the red list, and sadly India has been one of those countries that has had to be added.”

The Prime Minister had been due to travel to India on Sunday on a trip which had already been dramatically scaled back due to the pandemic.

Mr Johnson and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi agreed the cancellation of the trip.

The Prime Minister said: “I do think it’s only sensible to postpone, given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there.”

At the time, the Department for Transport said the situation in India “has deteriorated with an extremely rapid rise in cases detected throughout April, which is accelerating”.

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