Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said today that he foresees “a short extension” of the suspension of flights from the UK over a new fast-spreading strain of the coronavirus in that country. The forecast comes on a day when India reported the first six cases the mutant strain among people who have returned from the UK.
The government had last week banned flights from the UK till December 31 with all passengers arriving from the UK having to be tested on arrival at airports.
“I foresee a short extension on this temporary suspension. I don’t see the extension to be long or indefinite,” Mr Puri said.
Of the six who tested positive for the British strain, three of the patients are in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, two in Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Hyderabad and one in National Institute of Virology, Pune.
All patients have been kept in “single room isolation” in designated healthcare facilities by the state governments. Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been started for co-travellers, their families and others, the government said.
Around 33,000 passengers arrived from the UK between November 25 and December 23. Of them, 114 have tested positive for Covid. Genome sequencing for other specimens is on, the government has said. The states where these passengers arrived, meanwhile, is tracing them and their contacts for Covid RT-PCR tests.
The UK is one of 23 countries that India shares an “air bubble” with; the country is home to a huge Indian diaspora and several flights per day take hundreds of people between London and New Delhi and London and Mumbai.
India, which has the second-highest number of cases after the US, does not currently mandate institutional quarantine for international travellers if they have a negative COVID-19 test result 72 hours before entering the country.