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India Halts UK Flights, Fearing Virus Variant
The Ministry of Civil Aviation has announced to halt flights from and to the UK from tomorrow midnight till December 31.
All flights connecting the UK and India will remain suspended from Wednesday till December 31, the Civil Aviation Ministry said on Monday in view of the emergence of a mutated variant of the coronavirus there.
Moreover, it said passengers coming from the UK through flights till Tuesday midnight would be tested for COVID-19 on arrival at airports "as a measure of abundant precaution".
A number of countries like Canada, Turkey, Belgium, Italy and Israel have 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.
Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter that those passengers who are found COVID-positive would be sent for institutional quarantine set up by the states or union territories (UTs).
"Those found negative should be advised to isolate at home for 7 days and will be medically monitored by the states/UTs," Puri added.
Till date, the rules stated that if an international passenger had a COVID-negative certificate from a test done 72 hours prior to the journey, he or she need not undergo COVID-19 test again on arrival at the Indian airport.
Earlier during the day, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote to Union Civil Aviation Ministry Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola recommending suspension of all flights originating from the UK into India temporarily till December 31.
"As you are aware India has been seeing a sustained decline in the number of fresh COVID-19 cases for over two-and-a-half months now accompanied by a decline in the number of deaths," Bhushan stated.
"In this scenario, any interjection of a SARS-CoV-2 variant virus through passengers with a travel history could pose a critical risk for pandemic management in India," he added.
Bhushan recommended mandatory COVID-19 tests at airports for passengers coming from the UK, adding that the state governments should create separate desks at airports to facilitate the entire process.
The Civil Aviation Ministry tweeted on Monday: "Considering the prevailing situation in the UK, Govt. of India has decided that all flights originating from UK to India to be suspended till 31st December 2020 (23.59 hours)."
This suspension will start after 11.59 PM of December 22 and consequently, flights from India to the UK shall also stand temporarily suspended during the above said period, it added.
"As a measure of abundant precaution, passengers arriving from the UK in all transit flights (flights that have taken off or flights which are reaching India before 22nd Dec at 23.59 hrs) should be subject to mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival at the airports concerned," it mentioned.
All scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, special international passenger flights have been operating under the Vande Bharat mission since May and under bilateral air bubble arrangements since July.
India has formed air bubble arrangements with more than 22 countries - including the UK. Under an air bubble agreement between two nations, airlines of both countries can operate special flights between their territories with certain restrictions.
Nishant Pitti, Co-founder and CEO, EaseMyTrip.com, said the government's decision to suspend flights to and from the UK till the year-end would have a negligible impact on tourist traffic.
"Due to the current environment of COVID-19 and the quarantine rules and off-season, tourism to the UK, in any case, had not picked up. We had in any case foreseen an increase in international tourism only in the summer of 2021 with normalcy by the winter of 2021," he mentioned.
Meanwhile, responding to a question on the panic over the new strain 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 conscious about everything. If you ask me, there is no reason to panic the way we are seeing in this press conference," the minister added.
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