In the wake of the spread of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus, the Centre has temporarily suspended all flights from the UK into India, with effect from 11.59 pm on December 22 to 11.59pm on December 31. As a result of this decision taken on Monday, about 100 flights originating from the UK and landing at various Indian airports stand suspended.
After an urgent meeting of the joint monitoring group, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said the government was fully alert to the new strain of coronavirus reported in the United Kingdom. "There's no need to panic," he assured the public.
He further stated, ‘‘ At this time, I would say, don't get hassled with imaginary situations, imaginary talk and imaginary panic. The government is fully alert. In the last one year, as you all have seen, we took all the necessary measures to ensure the safety of people. If you ask me, there's no reason to panic so much."
He said that the government had done everything that was important, to handle the Covid-19 situation in the last one year.
In a letter to the Union Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote that the spread and growth of SARS-CoV-2 in UK called for enhanced epidemiological surveillance, enhanced containment and other measures to effectively tackle the challenge. ‘‘It has been reported that this variant has an unusually large number of genetic changes, particularly in the spike protein. 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. In this scenario, any interjection of a SARS-Cov-2 variant virus through passengers with air travel history could pose critical risk for pandemic management in India,’’ he added.
Based on the inputs received from the joint monitoring groups and the vaccine task force, it has been suggested that all flights originating from the UK into India be temporarily suspended with effect from 23.59 hours on December 22 to 23.59 hours on December 31.
Passengers arriving from the UK on all international flights (flights in transit) should be subjected to mandatory RT-PCR tests on arrival at the airports concerned. Those found positive on arrival are to be sent for institutional quarantine/isolation while those testing negative are advised to isolate at home for 7 days and be monitored by the states/Union Territories concerned.
Bhushan has categorically said that relevant information with regard to RT-PCR tests, institutional quarantine and home isolation should be prominently displayed in the arrival and waiting areas of the airports.
Further, the states/UTs concerned are being separately asked to set up help desks and make adequate arrangements for RT-PCR tests at the airports.