The Centre on Monday issued an order to suspend all flights to and from the United Kingdom between December 23 and December 31, joining a host of countries that are also doing so following the discovery of a new variant of the Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), which is believed to spread faster than its previous strains.
The ministry of civil aviation on Monday also noted passengers from all transit flights arriving from UK scheduled to reach India by December 22 will be subjected to mandatory RT-PCR tests on arrival.
“Considering the prevailing situation in UK, the government of India has decided that all flights originating from UK to India shall be temporarily suspended till December 31, 2020 (11.59pm). This suspension will start from 11.59pm, December 22, 2020,” the ministry announced.
“As a measure of precaution, passengers arriving from UK in all transit flights (flights that have taken off or flights which are reaching India before December 22) should be subject to mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival at the airports concerned,” it added.
Union civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri said that passengers who test positive will be sent for institutional quarantine.
“Those found positive on arrival should be sent for institutional quarantine set up by state/UT govts, in collaboration with the states/UTs concerned. Those found negative should be advised to isolate at home for 7 days & will be medically monitored by the States/UTs,” he tweeted.
The decision has been taken amid concerns over a new strain of the coronavirus that is feared to be more contagious, which forced at least five countries on Sunday to ban travel from the United Kingdom, with several others considering similar restrictions.
The new coronavirus variant has prompted the UK government to impose a tier 4 lockdown across the country and tighten restrictions across England, especially during the festival season.
India’s announcement on Monday came after a meeting called by the Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) chaired by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) to assess the threat from the new variant.
The government may review the suspension period after December.
“ We have imposed a 10-day suspension on flights to and from the UK after a thorough review by the government. We will reassess the suspension period as per the situation prevailing in the country later,” an aviation ministry official said.
The development came days after London confirmed that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had accepted India’s invite to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi on January 26. The travel curbs also compound problems for the UK as it is finally set to exit the European Union on December 31.
India has been operating international flights through established transport bubbles with 23 countries, including the UK thus far, and the Vande Bharat Mission since May while regular operations remain suspended since March.