The Indian government on Wednesday extended the suspension of flights to and from the United Kingdom till January 7 amid alarm over the new highly contagious strain of the coronavirus.
“Decision has been taken to extend the temporary suspension of flights to and from the UK till 7 January 2021. Thereafter strictly regulated resumption will take place for which details will be announced shortly,” aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri tweeted.
India had earlier banned UK flights on December 23 till the 31st.
According to the health ministry, 20 people who returned to India from Britain have tested positive for the new UK variant genome of SARS-CoV-2 so far.
The tally includes six people who were found positive for the new virus strain on Tuesday who have been kept in single room isolation at special health care facilities by state governments and their close contacts have also been quarantined.
“Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on. The situation is under careful watch and regular advice is being provided to the states for enhanced surveillance, containment, testing,” the ministry had said.
Much is unknown about the strain, but experts say current vaccines should still be effective against it.
The mutant virus was first detected in southeast England in September. It is quickly becoming the dominant strain in London and other parts of the UK, and has led to surging infection numbers and toughest levels of restrictions
Cases of the mutant coronavirus have already been reported in Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore besides UK.
The ministry said that from November 25 to December 23 midnight, about 33,000 passengers arrived at various Indian airports from the UK. All these passengers are being tracked and subjected to RT-PCR tests by states and union territories.
The UK was one of 23 countries that India shared an “air bubble” with; the country is home to a huge Indian community and several flights per day take hundreds of people between London and New Delhi and London and Mumbai.