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India bans flights from UK to stave off new Covid strain

India bans flights from UK to stave off new Covid strain

India on Monday announced that it will temporarily ban flights from UK to stave off the more virulent coronavirus strain that is spreading rapidly in Britain.

"Considering the prevailing situation in the UK, the Indian government has decided that all flights originating from the UK to India shall be temporarily suspended till 11:59 pm, 31st December. This suspension to start with effect from 11.59 pm, 22nd December," the Ministry of Civil Aviation tweeted. Britain is one of 23 countries that India shares an “air bubble” with.

The decision comes after several European countries had already announced travel bans with the UK. France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Israel, Canada and Hong Kong were among those that shut off travel ties after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a highly infectious new strain of the virus was a danger to the country.

Australia said on Monday it had detected cases of the new virulent coronavirus strain identified in Britain. Two travellers from the United Kingdom to Australia’s New South Wales state were found carrying the new virus strain. Italy has also reported a patient, who had recently returned from the UK, infected with the mutant virus.

Meanwhile, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Monday clarified that there is no need to panic over the more virulent variant of coronavirus that is surging in the United Kingdom, as the Indian government is alert on the issue.

“The government is fully alert. There is no need to panic. Do not get yourself tangled in the imaginary situation, talks and panic,” Vardhan said during a press conference on India International Science Festival 2020.

Vardhan's remarks came shortly after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted : "New mutation of corona virus has emerged in UK, which is a super-spreader. I urge central government to ban all flights from UK immediately."

Earlier, the Health Ministry called an emergency meeting of its top advisors to discuss the new coronavirus strain that has been analysed to be 70 per cent more infectious and is rapidly spreading in Britain. Several European nations, including Italy, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, have banned flights to and fro from the United Kingdom in the wake of reports of the new mutant strain.

On Sunday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said "the new variant is out of control". However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "there's no evidence it causes more severe illness".

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said, “We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding. There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this.”

Professor Whitty’s comments assume importance as there are fears among some sections that the vaccine may not be effective against the new strain.

Meanwhile, Kartika Kuppali, member of Centre for Disease Control advisory committee on immunisation practices (ACIP) tweeted that the issue was discussed at a meeting on Saturday and “US biotechnology firm Moderna is evaluating the lineage of the new strain but so far things look okay. “

The WHO had tweeted late on Saturday that it was “in close contact with UK officials on the new COVID-19 virus variant and promised to update governments and the public as more is learned”.

In India the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths have continued to decline over the last 14 weeks with a 17.3 per cent fall registered in the last week.

The country recorded 171,520 fresh cases which is 36,000 lower than the previous week. The weekly death toll has come down to 2,444, the lowest in the last six months. The national capital Delhi, reported 1,091 fresh Covid-19 cases on Sunday which is the lowest single day count in the last four months. The positivity rate has remained below 2 per cent now for the sixth day in a row..