New Delhi: The Ministry of Civil Aviation Monday announced that flights from the United Kingdom will be suspended till 31 December amid concerns over a new strain of the novel coronavirus found in that country.
“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,” the ministry tweeted.
As a measure of abundant precaution, passengers arriving from 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.
— MoCA_GoI (@MoCA_GoI) December 21, 2020
This follows an urgent meeting of the Union health ministry’s Joint Monitoring Group, headed by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS).
In a letter to Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola, which has been released to the press, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said: “India has been seeing a sustained decline in the number of fresh Covid-19 cases for over 2.5 months now, accompanied by a decline in the number of deaths. In this scenario, any interjection of a SARS-CoV-2 variant virus through passengers with air travel history could pose critical risks for pandemic management in India.”
The suspension will begin at 23:59 hours on 22 December 2020, and passengers arriving from the UK before that have to undergo RT-PCR tests mandatorily.
“Those who are found positive on arrival must be sent for institutional quarantine/isolation set up by the state/UT governments, in collaborations with the states/UTs concerned,” Bhushan stated, adding that those who test negative will have to undergo home isolation for seven days.
The mutation, that is being dubbed VUI-202012/01 or lineage B.1.1.7, has raised considerable concern as preliminary studies have shown it is 70 per cent more transmissible.
Bhushan listed out the measures suggested by the JMG and the Vaccine Task Force headed by the Principal Scientific Adviser K. VijayRaghavan and NITI Aayog Member (Health) V.K. Paul.
The meeting was attended by experts from AIIMS, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said there is no need to panic over the new coronavirus strain. “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,” he said at the India International Science Festival.