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India suspends all UK flights over 'out of control' COVID-19 variant

Malini T
·5-min read
Passengers at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Passengers at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

All flights from the UK to India and vice versa will remain suspended from Wednesday to December 31, the Civil Aviation Ministry said on Monday in view of the emergence of a mutated variant of the coronavirus there.

Moreover, the ministry said passengers coming from the UK through flights till Tuesday would be tested for COVID-19 on arrival at the airports 'as a measure of abundant precaution'.

Earlier, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal demanded that the Centre ban all flights from the United Kingdom immediately in view of the emergence of a mutated variant of the coronavirus there.

The government, however, is fully alert and there is no need to panic, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said amid concerns over the emergence of a new coronavirus strain in the UK.

The Union Health Ministry has called an urgent meeting of its Joint Monitoring Group to discuss the new strain, which has led to a surge in the infection rate in the UK.

Responding to a question on the panic and a demand to ban flights from the UK, Vardhan told reporters, “I would say this to all that all these imaginary situations, imaginary talks, imaginary panic... don't involve yourself in this. The government is fully alert about everything. If you ask me, there is no reason to panic the way we are seeing in this press conference,” the minister said.

He said the government had done everything that was important to handle the COVID-19 situation in the last one year. The scientific community, he added, had very ably risen to the occasion, continuously striving and contributing to whatever was needed to combat and understand any aspect of COVID-19.

A number of European countries have already banned flights from the UK as the British government warned that the potent new strain of the virus was 'out of control' and imposed a stringent new stay-at-home lockdown from Sunday.

France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Israel and Canada shut off travel ties after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a highly infectious new strain of the virus was a danger to the country.

What is the new COVID-19 variant?

The new coronavirus strain seems to spread more easily is causing alarm, but virus experts say it’s unclear if that’s the case or whether they pose any concern for vaccines or cause more severe disease.

'Sick man of Europe': UK cut off over fears about new COVID strain

Health experts in the UK and US said the strain seems to infect more easily than others, but there is no evidence yet it is more deadly.

Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said that the strain “moves fast and is becoming the dominant variant,” causing over 60% of infections in London by December.

The strain is also concerning because it has so many mutations — nearly two dozen — and some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells. That spike is what current vaccines target. (CLICK HERE FOR THE EXPLAINER)

Expressing concern over the new coronavirus strain in the UK, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also asked the Centre to take prompt action, prepare a contingency plan and immediately ban all flights from the UK and other European countries.

In a tweet, Gehlot said India was late in banning international flights when COVID-19 had started spreading, leading to a drastic spike in cases in the country.

“The new strain of novel coronavirus emerging in the UK is a matter of great concern. GoI must take prompt action, prepare a contingency plan to contain the same & also immediately ban all flights from the UK & other European countries,” he tweeted.

“India needs both a preparedness plan as well as steps to restrict any movement from affected countries. Our medical experts must be ready with a treatment plan in case of any outbreak of the new strain of virus. Health protocols must be adhered to even more strictly,” the chief minister said.

With input from PTI and AP