India Wednesday extended the temporary suspension of flights to and from the United Kingdom till 7 January 2021 amid concerns over the new highly contagious strain of the coronavirus, first reported in Britain. “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. Earlier the ban was in effect till December 31, 2020.
The Civil Aviation Ministry’s decision comes after India reported 20 cases of new coronavirus strain. While six cases were detected on Tuesday, 14 people were found positive for the new virus strain today, news agency PTI reported.
The ministry said the mutated UK strain was detected in eight samples at the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), one at the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), Kalyani (near Kolkata), one at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) Pune, seven at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences Hospital (NIMHANS) Bengaluru, two at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad and one at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Delhi.
“All these persons have been kept in single-room isolation in designated health care facilities by respective state governments. Their close contacts have also been put under quarantine. Comprehensive contact tracing has been initiated for co-travellers, family contacts, and others. Genome sequencing on other specimens is going on,” the Health Ministry said.
Experts have suggested that the vaccines developed against the novel coronavirus would remain effective despite the emergence of the new strain. However, they cautioned that injudicious use of unproven therapies against Covid-19 puts “immune pressure” on the virus, which can lead to mutations.
The presence of the new UK Variant has already been reported by Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.
Around 33,000 passengers had landed in various Indian airports from the UK between November 25 and December 23, when flights to and from that country were stopped. “All these passengers are being tracked and subjected by states to RT-PCR tests. So far, only 114 have been found positive [for all variants of the virus],” the Ministry said.
All samples from UK returnees that test positive in RT-PCR tests will be put through genome sequencing, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan told reporters. Also, as part of extensive surveillance, 5 per cent of positive samples in the general population of the country will also be subjected to genome sequencing, Bhushan said.