LONDON/NEW DELHI: In view of the emergence of a new COVID-19 strain in the United Kingdom which is mostly affecting the youths, the government has taken several precautionary measures. While the Centre has suspended all flights from and to the UK from December 22 to December 31, joining several other nations that sealed their borders to the UK, it has also issued a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the air travellers coming from the United Kingdom.
All passengers coming from the UK will have to share their travel history for the last 14 days. "All medical costs of tests incurred shall be borne by the government," the circular said. "This is a temporary measure and shall be in force till December 31, 2020," the Ministry of Civil Aviation said.
"Considering the prevailing situation in the UK, Govt of India has decided that all flights originating from the UK to India to be suspended till 31st December 2020 (23.59 hours)," the Civil Aviation Ministry said on Twitter.
All passengers coming from the UK through flights till Tuesday (December 22) will have to undergo an RT-PCR test for COVID-19 on arrival at the airports "as a measure of abundant precaution", the Civil Aviation Ministry said.
“If the coronavirus positive strain is found among travellers coming to India from the United Kingdom between December 21 to 23, then a separate test will have to be done for this particular strain,” the SOP issued by the Civil Aviation Ministry said.
The ministry further said that the State/UT governments concerned are being separately asked to set up help desks at the airports to facilitate this. "Adequate arrangements for passengers waiting for their RT PCR test results may also be made at the airports," MoCA added.
In a series of tweets by Union Civil Aviation Minister HS Puri said any interjection of COVID variant virus via passengers with air travel history could pose critical risks. ''7-day isolation advisable for passengers from UK who test in RT-PCR and they will be medically monitored by the States/UTs.''
"Those found positive on arrival should be sent for institutional quarantine set up by state/UT govts, in collaboration with the states/UTs concerned," Puri said in a tweet.
Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) also issued a directive to all airlines that passengers coming from the UK should not be allowed to board their flights from any other city to India during the suspension period.
This suspension will start after 11.59 PM of December 22 and consequently, flights from India to the UK shall also stand temporarily suspended during the period, it added.
"As a measure of abundant precaution, passengers arriving from the UK in all transit flights (flights that have taken off or flights which are reaching India before 22nd Dec at 23.59 hrs) should be subject to mandatory RT-PCR test on arrival at the airports concerned," it said.
The regulator said the suspension - which comes in Christmas week - would not be applicable on cargo flights. Meanwhile, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has said the government is alert and there is no need for panic.
The Health Minister said, "The government is fully alert about everything. If you ask me, there is no reason to panic the way we are seeing in this press conference."
He said the government had done everything that was important to handle the COVID-19 situation in the last one year. The scientific community, he added, had very ably risen to the occasion, continuously striving and contributing to whatever was needed to combat and understand any aspect of COVID-19.
A number of European nations among others have shut off travel ties to the UK after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus was a danger to the country.
Several countries, including France, Canada, Turkey, Belgium, Italy and Israel, have banned flights from the UK with the British government warning that the potent new strain of the virus was "out of control" and imposing a stringent new stay-at-home lockdown from Sunday.
A Vistara spokesperson said the airline will comply with the government's order to suspend UK flights. "In order to minimize inconvenience to our customers, we will enable one-time free-of-charge rescheduling of affected bookings to any date until 31 December 2021," the spokesperson noted.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week said a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England in recent weeks.
But he stressed "there's no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness," or that vaccines will be less effective against it.